Following a request from the United Arab Emirates, Fifa, the international governing body of football, removed a Qatari referee from an upcoming 2018 World Cup qualifier match between UAE and Thailand, AP reported on Sunday. A Singaporean referee will now take charge of the match, which is set to be played in Bangkok on Tuesday.
Fifa said the decision, which came hours after Fifa president Gianni Infantino said football’s governing body should not “interfere in geopolitics”, was taken considering the geopolitical situation in the Gulf region. Seven countries, including the UAE, had cut diplomatic ties with Qatar last week, accusing the country of funding terrorism and supporting Israel.
“We can confirm that FIFA has replaced the match officials originally appointed for the said game,” it said in a statement to AP. “The decision has been taken for sporting reasons and in view of the current geopolitical situation.”
The Zurich-based organization agreed with the UAE federation’s demand, even though Fifa’s statues demand a firm stance against any “political interference” in football and countries are often suspended from the international game as a result.
The Singaporean referee will be assisted by a fellow Singaporean and two officials from Malaysia. The country will host the 2022 Fifa World Cup, which is the first World Cup being held in West Asia.
Earlier, Infantino, in an interview with Swiss newspaper Le Matin published on Sunday, had said he was confident that the regional rift between the Gulf nations would be resolved before the country hosts the World Cup. “We are indeed facing a diplomatic crisis. But on the other hand, I am confident that the region will return to a normalised situation,” Infantino said. “The essential role of Fifa, as I understand it, is to deal with football and not to interfere in geopolitics,” he added.