Club World Cup on track despite Houthi attacks on UAE: FIFA

FIFA says competition to go ahead “as planned” despite Abu Dhabi, the host city, targeted twice by Houthi missiles in a week.

chelsea champions league winners
Chelsea beat Manchester city to win last year's Champions League [Pierre-Philippe Marcou/Reuters]

FIFA says the Club World Cup 2021, scheduled to take place in Abu Dhabi in February this year, is scheduled to go ahead as planned despite the escalation in Yemen’s long-running war that has seen the UAE capital targeted by Houthi missiles in the last week.

On Monday, the UAE said it had intercepted and destroyed two ballistic missiles over Abu Dhabi fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

The incident follows a Houthi drone-and-missile attack on Abu Dhabi that killed three civilians last week.

The Club World Cup, involving regional champions and host country representatives, is scheduled to take place from February 3 to February 12 at two venues in Abu Dhabi.

The escalation in violence and the twin attacks raised doubts over the tournament but FIFA, football’s world governing body, told Al Jazeera that the event is planned to go ahead as scheduled.

“The FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2021 will be hosted as planned,” a FIFA spokesperson said.

“When it comes to security at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2021, FIFA is continuing to monitor the situation and working closely with the Local Organising Committee, and other key stakeholders in the UAE, regarding security arrangements for the tournament.”

The seven-team event gets under way with host team Al Jazira Club taking on Tahiti’s AS Pirae, replacement for Auckland City FC which withdrew from the tournament for the second year running due to COVID regulations.

CAF Champions League winners Al Ahly SC, CONCACAF Champions League champions CF Monterrey, winners of the AFC Champions League Al Hilal SFC, Copa Libertadores champions SE Palmeiras and Chelsea, European champions, complete the lineup.

A picture shows a storage facility of oil giant ADNOC in the Msaffah industrial district in the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi
A storage facility of oil giant ADNOC in the Msaffah industrial district in Abu Dhabi [AFP]

Following last week’s attack that targeted an oil facility and an under-construction area outside Abu Dhabi airport, Brazil’s Palmeiras also confirmed to Al Jazeera that there are “no planned changes to the club’s schedule and procedures in Abu Dhabi”.

On Monday, videos on social media showed the sky over Abu Dhabi lit up before dawn, with points of light looking like interceptor missiles, The Associated Press reported.

The UAE defence ministry, quoted by state-run WAM news agency, said “the remnants of the intercepted ballistic missiles fell in separate areas around Abu Dhabi”, adding that it “is ready to deal with any threats and … takes all necessary measures to protect the state”.

Two Indians and a Pakistani working for oil giant ADNOC died last week as three petrol tanks exploded near a storage facility.

The war in Yemen began in 2014 when the Houthi rebels took over much of the country, including the capital Sanaa, forcing President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee.

Fighting escalated in March 2015 when Saudi Arabia and the UAE, with US backing, assembled a military coalition in support of Hadi’s government that succeeded in pushing the Houthis out of the south.

The flare-up has raised fears of a worsening humanitarian crisis in Yemen where the situation is already dire, with more than 16 million people being food insecure.

Though exact figures are difficult to gather, the UN estimates that more than 377,000 people have died due to the conflict as of late 2021.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies