FIFA removes Qatari referee from World Cup qualifier

FIFA has waded into the escalating Gulf diplomatic crisis by removing Qatari referee Fahad Al-Marri (photo) from the 2018 World Cup qualifier Thailand – UAE, following a request from the United Arab Emirates. Instead, a referee from Singapore, Muhammad Bin Jahari, will take charge of the qualifier for next year's tournament in Russia. He will be assisted by a fellow Singaporean and two officials from Malaysia. The decision was taken due to the "geopolitical situation" in the region, FIFA told The Associated Press on Sunday, hours after its president, Gianni Infantino, was quoting as saying football's governing body should not "interfere in geopolitics." Qatar, which is hosting the 2022 World Cup, was isolated earlier this week by four Gulf nations, including the UAE, who accuse it of funding terrorism. "We can confirm that FIFA has replaced the match officials originally appointed for the said game," FIFA said in a statement to the AP. "The decision has been taken for sporting reasons and in view of the current geopolitical situation." In an interview with Swiss newspaper Le Matin published Sunday, Infantino expressed confidence that the regional rift would be resolved before Qatar hosts the Middle East's first World Cup in five years. "The essential role of FIFA, as I understand it, is to deal with football and not to interfere in geopolitics," Infantino was quoted as saying. Football bodies, including FIFA, will separate countries such as Armenia and Azerbaijan or Spain and Gibraltar in qualifying draws due to ongoing political disputes. Infantino said he is maintaining regular contact with the "highest authorities" in Qatar and the 2022 tournament's organising committee. "We are indeed facing a diplomatic crisis," Infantino said. "But on the other hand, I am confident that the region will return to a normalised situation. The World Cup is in 2022, in five years. Obviously, if football can make a small contribution, in any way. I will not hesitate to offer my help".

Source: ESPN