AFC allows 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar to play in qualifiers

Reuters , Wednesday 26 Jul 2017

Qatar's national football team will be permitted to play in the preliminary qualifying rounds of the 2022 World Cup despite being given an automatic berth in the finals as tournament hosts, the Asian Football Confederation has said.

Under the current system, the 12 teams advancing to the final phase of Asian qualifying for 2022 also secure places at the finals of the Asian Cup the following year.

The AFC said the decision was made at a meeting of its competition committee on Tuesday and that, pending FIFA approval, Qatar would also be allowed to play in the final phase of 2022 qualifying should they advance.

The AFC has also said it would continue to work with federations in the Gulf region to ensure broadcasts of Asian qualifying matches for next year's World Cup in Russia, as well as Asian Champions League broadcasts, would not be interrupted by ongoing diplomatic issues.

Qatari broadcaster BeIn Sports, a division of the Al Jazeera network, holds the exclusive broadcast rights for matches under the control of the AFC for the Middle East region, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Those three countries, along with Egypt, severed diplomatic and travel ties with Qatar in June, accusing it of supporting Islamist militants. Doha denies the claims.

Lin Xiaohua, who chaired the discussion after Saoud Al Mohannadi, a Qatari, recused himself, said it was important the AFC defended its commercial rights.

"This is an extremely complex situation but we are pleased to have received reassurances from SAFF and UAEFA that they have no objection to the AFC delivering the international television feed for the games in Saudi Arabia and the UAE," said Lin.

"The committee recognises that it is important that the AFC commercial rights be defended and we are confident that the positive work, which is taking place to ensure the matches go ahead, continues."

The diplomatic situation has already resulted in FIFA changing the officials due to take charge of a World Cup qualifier between Thailand and the UAE in June. A referee from Qatar had originally been slated to take charge of that match.

The confederation said it would continue to liaise with FIFA over the two remaining World Cup qualifying matches to be played by both Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Saudi Arabia travel to face the UAE on Aug. 29 before hosting Japan on Sept. 5. The UAE play Iraq in Tehran in their final game.

The AFC also announced an increase in prize money for the Asian Champions League from 2018, with the winners receiving $3 million and the runners-up claiming $1.5 million.

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