Qatar row: Diplomatic rift forces venue changes in Asian Champions league

Persepolis FC
Iran's Persepolis is just one of the team's affected by the diplomatic row in the Gulf

The diplomatic row between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours has forced venue changes in the Asian Champions League.

Iran's Persepolis and Saudi Arabia's Al Ahli were drawn together on Tuesday for the two-legged quarter-finals.

Games between Saudi and Iranian teams are already played on neutral grounds due to poor diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Some matches were played in the Qatari capital Doha this season - but some Gulf states have cut ties with Qatar.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen severed contact on the grounds that Doha supported extremist groups "that aim to destabilise the region".

The rift has seen the closure of air space and the expulsion of diplomats.

It also means a new venue will have to be found for the matches between the two teams, scheduled for August and September.

"Iran has chosen Oman as their neutral venue. Saudi has chosen Qatar for their home match but now with the new development, Saudi Arabia has to propose a new (neutral) venue," the AFC's secretary general Windsor John said.

World Cup qualifier impacted

Elsewhere, South Korea have been forced to change their travel plans for their World Cup qualifier in Qatar on 13 June.

Uli Stielike's side are currently in the UAE for a warm-up match against Iraq on Wednesday.

They had been scheduled to take the one-hour hop to Doha on Saturday but with flights from Dubai to the Qatari capital suspended they have had to make other arrangements and will have to divert.

Al Ahli, one of Saudi's top clubs, has already cancelled a major sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways.

December's Gulf Cup of Nations - a non-Fifa sanctioned tournament due to be hosted by Qatar - could also be affected.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Yemen all compete in the Gulf Cup alongside Qatar, Iraq, Oman and Kuwait.

Qatar
The Khalifa International Stadium - the first new stadium to be completed for the 2022 World Cup - was opened in May

Analysis - 2022 World Cup safe...for now

BBC Radio 5 live sports news correspondent Richard Conway

Qatar is one of the world's richest countries - its vast natural gas resources has given the tiny Gulf nation an incredible level of wealth.

It is building - principally in its capital, Doha - for a time when those resources run dry.

The controversial winning bid for the 2022 World Cup is seen as a catalyst towards largely achieving its social, financial, commercial and infrastructure aims by 2030.

By sponsoring major sporting events and brands Qatar is also looking to extend its "soft power" - a method of influencing how it is perceived and engages with the world.

This diplomatic crisis is a major threat to all those plans though.

Qatar has long had its foreign policy priorities that set it apart - and often against - its neighbours.

Regional powers - such as Saudi Arabia - believe Qatar is destabilising the Middle East through its support of terrorism. That's an accusation the Qatari government denies. However, an air, sea and land blockade is now in effect.

The longer this crisis goes on the worse it will get for Qatar.

Right now, in terms of sporting ambitions, it has time. The World Cup is still five years away but construction of stadiums and critical infrastructure could be delayed given the blockade. Fifa's leadership appears calm for now but that may change if the situation continues for a significant period of time.

Finally, Qatar has consistently sent a message that its World Cup will be a unifying event, shared with the entire Middle East. Qatar 2022's chief executive recently said the tournament will serve "as a platform for enhancing cultural understanding in this era where voices of extremism promote exclusion instead of inclusion".

Those hopes arguably lie in tatters given the current claims against the Qatari government.

Qatar's hosting of the World Cup is still safe for now.

Despite the many on-going allegations of corruption against its successful World Cup bid - allegations it strenuously denies - it appears it will be geo-politics and influences beyond the reach of the organising committee, or even Fifa, that will determine if it does proceed.

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