DOHA, Jan 4 (Reuters) - A Qatari official who helped organise the Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates was prevented from flying there on Thursday for the tournament, sources said, as a rift between the two Gulf states showed no signs of abating.
Saoud Al-Mohannadi chaired the organising committee for the tournament, which starts on Saturday, and is vice president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
A Qatari official told Reuters that Mohannadi was stopped from boarding an Oman Air flight to Abu Dhabi from Muscat. He was told by the airline that his name was not on a list held at Abu Dhabi airport, another source said.
Abu Dhabi’s government communications office did not respond immediately to Reuters’ request for comment. But Aref al-Awani, director of the Asian Cup’s local organising committee, said on Twitter that nobody was banned from attending the tournament.
Other than in special circumstances, Qataris have been prevented from entering United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt since the four countries launched a diplomatic and trade boycott of Qatar in June 2017.
They accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism, a charge that Doha denies.
Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup, which soccer’s global governing body FIFA hopes to expand to 48 teams from 32, suggesting the country could share hosting duties with neighbouring Gulf states.
The AFC is one of six continental football confederations that make up FIFA.
Abu Dhabi’s Awani said reports about banning any individual from attending were untrue. “Whoever is trying to create stories and fictions are used to it, and we are used to ignoring them,” he tweeted.
Mohannadi said last month that he would run for president of the 47-country AFC in April.
The other two contenders are the UAE’s Mohammed Khalfan Al-Rumaithi and incumbent Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, of Bahrain.
The Asian Cup, held every four years and running until Feb. 1, is considered a key gathering point to lobby AFC members for votes.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia are due to play a group match on Jan. 17 and the Qatari team is expected to arrive in Abu Dhabi this week in time for their first game on Jan. 7.
Qatar has said it will only decide on any expansion of the World Cup after seeing a FIFA feasibility study expected by March. (Reporting by Eric Knecht; editing by John Stonestreet)