Qatar’s Football Association fined former Barcelona star Xavi Hernandez and several other top-flight players and staff $2,700 each for breaching coronavirus rules, it said in a statement on Thursday.
Xavi, head coach of Qatari side Al-Sadd, revealed at the end of July that he had contracted the virus but just days later he said he had returned home and to work.
The penalty, which included an official warning from the league, was because of “non-compliance with the Ministry of Public Health’s safety protocols including breaching a home quarantine pledge signed by him”, the statement said.
Al-Sadd players Hammam al-Amin and Abdul Karim Hassan also faced fines of 10,000 riyals ($2,700) and warnings from the QFA’s disciplinary committee, as did players and staff from several other Qatari teams.
It is not clear if the sanctions related to the two-week mandatory quarantine period that Qatari authorities applied to those returning to the country at the height of the pandemic.
The quarantine period has since been reduced to one week for those returning to Qatar from countries deemed “low-risk”.
The Qatar Stars League resumed competition on July 24 with strict social distancing rules, routine testing of players and staff and a blanket ban on media attendance.
Matches were halted in March to stem the spread of COVID-19.
More than 4 percent of Qatar’s 2.75 million people have had coronavirus, with 112,092 cases reported since the start of the pandemic giving the tiny Gulf state one of the highest per capita total infection rates.
However the gas-rich country has posted just 178 deaths meaning it has one of the world’s lowest virus death rates and 108,831 people have recovered from COVID-19, according to official statistics.
Qatar will seek to host the 2032 Olympic Games, it said on Monday, joining a crowded field and raising questions about scorching summer temperatures and underwhelming attendances at past events.
India, Australia’s Queensland state, the Chinese city of Shanghai and a potential joint bid between South and North Korea are also being touted for the 2032 summer games.
Under changes put forward in 2014, interested countries submit a request to join the non-committal “continuous dialogue”, which Qatar confirmed to AFP it had done via a letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne.
“Today’s announcement marks the beginning of a meaningful dialogue with the IOC’s Future Host Commission to explore our interest further and identify how the Olympic Games can support Qatar’s long-term development goals,” Qatar Olympic Committee president Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani told AFP in a statement.
Qatar unsuccessfully bid to host the 2016 and 2020 games, having proposed to host the former in October without first clearing it with the IOC.
It won a waiver to propose hosting the 2020 games, a joint bid with Baku, Azerbaijan, between September 20 and October 20, but failed to make the shortlist.
The 2020 games, postponed to 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic, were awarded to Japan, which also experiences searing summer temperatures, leading officials to schedule events early in the morning when conditions are coolest.
“Qatar has earned the reputation of a world-class destination for major sporting events,” added Sheikh Joaan, brother of Qatar’s ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.
“It is this proven track-record and wealth of experience, along with our desire to use sport to promote peace and cultural exchange, that will form the basis of our discussions with the Commission.”
Summer temperatures can reach 50 degrees celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in the nation which abuts the Arabian desert. Heat and humidity were major issues during the road races at last year’s World Athletics Championships held in Doha.
The event was shifted to late September and October over concerns about the gas-rich state’s climate and marathons and race walks were held at midnight.
Even so, humidity hovered around 73 percent and the temperature was 33 degrees Celsius (91 degrees Fahrenheit) for much of the women’s marathon and images of the runners collapsing and gasping for air led to questions over Qatar’s suitability to host outdoor events outside the cooler winter months.
Perhaps the most stinging off-track criticism of the 10-day World Athletics event was sparked by the spectacle of a near-empty stadium during the opening days, raising fears for World Cup attendances in 2022 and at other sporting events.
IAAF President Sebastian Coe said he was more worried about conditions at the Tokyo Olympics, where summer temperatures have pushed organisers to schedule events for the early morning.
Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup after a bid process that has been attacked by some European nations and media outlets as corrupt, although Doha insists it won fairly.
Discriminatory labour practices and human rights issues facing the migrant labourers building infrastructure for 2022 have been subject to intense scrutiny and criticism since Qatar won the bid in 2010.
“We in the International Olympic Committee are happy with the huge interest in the 2032 Summer Olympics, 12 years before the launch of the games. We are in a great position,” IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview with Qatar-based broadcaster BeIN on Friday.
“We made sure that our new approach to this kind of intentions works well. We launched a dialogue between the interested national Olympic committees and a special commission in the IOC. Naturally, we welcome Qatar to join this dialogue.”
If Qatar were successful, it would be the first time the event had been held in the Middle East.
Former Barcelona star Xavi Hernandez signed on as head coach of Qatari club Al-Sadd for one more year Sunday, putting to bed rumours of an imminent move back to the Spanish side.
There had been media speculation in recent days that World Cup winner Xavi, 40, was being lined up to replace Quique Setien at Barcelona at the end of the season.
Hernandez turned down an approach in January after Barca sacked Ernesto Valverde, which led to the surprise appointment of Setien.
“I am happy to continue with Al-Sadd, and the team’s goal will always be to compete for all titles,” he said in a statement on the club’s website which added that his contract had been renewed for a second season.
“(My) complete focus in this current period is to fully equip the players for the upcoming domestic and Asian competitions.”
The relationship between Barcelona’s board, led by president Josep Maria Bartomeu, and the players has proved tense, with Lionel Messi’s public criticism of technical secretary Eric Abidal among a number of off-field controversies.
“I am clear that I want to return to Barca, I am very excited,” Xavi said in March when asked if a change of board would be needed for it to happen.
“In the dressing room there can’t be a negative or toxic atmosphere.”
Xavi came through the Barcelona academy before breaking the record for most appearances for the senior side, winning four Champions League trophies and eight La Liga titles.
He joined Al-Sadd as a player in 2015 before being appointed coach last July.
World Cup organisers in Qatar reported the first coronavirus death of a worker involved in construction of 2022 tournament venues on Thursday.
A source close to the Qatari tournament organisers told AFP that 1,102 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed among workers at tournament projects with 121 infections still active.
First reported by the newly relaunched Doha News, a site popular among expatriates in Qatar, the victim was an engineer in his fifties who had no underlying medical conditions.
Qatar has one of the highest per capita infection rates in the world with 3.3 percent of its 2.75 million population having tested positive.
Most have since recovered with only 17,591 active cases reported in the latest official statistics alongside 104 deaths.
“Sadly, on June 11, 2020, a 51-year-old specialist engineer employed by the contractor Conspel, tragically died after contracting COVID-19,” the Qatari organisation responsible for organising the 2022 tournament said in a statement.
“He had worked on Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy projects since October 2019 and had no underlying health issues. We send our deepest condolences to his family and friends.”
His nationality was not disclosed.
The Qatari organisers reported the first infections among its workforce on April 15 with five cases across three stadium projects.
Work continues at 2022 sites but has slowed to allow virus containment measures including screening and social distancing to be observed with Qatari officials saying preparations are nevertheless more than 80 percent complete.
Organisers have removed all high-risk workers from projects on full pay, undertake temperature checks on workers twice daily, and imposed distancing rules in dining halls and staff transport to limit the virus’ spread.
Construction at infrastructure to stage the tournament continued through the crisis even as Qatar halted non-essential retail and mosques, parks and restaurants closed.
Qatar has begun a cautious reopening programme with socially distanced worship permitted in some Mosques and non-essential retail permitted.
Cafes and restaurants are due to reopen subject to strict controls from July 1.
The timings of the competition, due to be held in November and December of 2022, remain unchanged by the coronavirus pandemic which has already forced the postponement of the European football championships and the Tokyo Olympics.
Privacy concerns over Qatar’s coronavirus contact tracing app, a tool that is mandatory on pain of prison, have prompted a rare backlash and forced officials to offer reassurance and concessions.
Like other governments around the world, Qatar has turned to mobile phones to trace people’s movements and track who they come into contact with, allowing officials to monitor coronavirus infections and alert people at risk of contagion.
The apps use Bluetooth radio signals to “ping” nearby devices, which can be contacted subsequently if a user they have been near develops symptoms or tests positive, but the resultant unprecedented access to users’ location data has prompted fears about state surveillance.
Qatar’s version goes considerably further — it forces Android users to permit access to their picture and video galleries, while also allowing the app to make unprompted calls.
“I can’t understand why it needs all these permissions,” wrote Ala’a on a Facebook group popular with Doha’s large expat community — one of several such forums peppered with concerns over the app.
Justin Martin, a journalism professor based in Qatar, warned authorities in a tweet not to “erode” trust by enforcing “an app with such alarming permissions”.
The government launched the “Ehteraz” app, meaning “precaution”, in April and on Friday it became mandatory for all citizens and legal residents to install it on their phones.
Non-compliance is punishable by up to three years in jail — the same term as for failing to wear a mask in public — in a state battling one of the world’s highest per capita infection rates.
– ‘Highly invasive’ –
Almost 44,000 of Qatar’s 2.75 million people have tested positive for the respiratory disease — 1.6 percent of the population — and 23 people have died.
Security forces manned checkpoints across Qatar on Sunday to ensure use of the app, local media reported, alongside checking for use of masks.
Criticism of the government is rare in Qatar and laws prohibit disrespect towards officials.
However, officials have said that the law on the app will be enforced with “understanding”.
The app’s simple interface displays coloured bar-codes containing the user’s ID number — green for healthy, red for COVID-19 positive and yellow for quarantined cases. Grey indicates suspected cases or those who have come into contact with infected individuals.
Mohamed bin Hamad Al-Thani, a director at Qatar’s health ministry, said that data gathered is “completely confidential”.
“There will be an update for the Ehteraz app to address the issues of concern and further improve its efficiency,” he added in an interview on state television on Thursday.
A new version of the software was duly released for Apple and Android on Sunday, promising “minor bug fixes”, but without indicating that the invasive aspects had been removed.
The app was introduced just as authorities across the Muslim world warned that gatherings during Ramadan and the Eid al-Fitr festival that marks the end of the holy fasting month could lead to a surge of infections.
– ‘Burner’ phones –
“There are two key concerns… with the app,” said Human Rights Watch researcher Hiba Zayadin.
It “is highly invasive, with a range of permissions allowing the government access to things that are not needed for the purpose of contact tracing, permissions that are unnecessary and present a concerning invasion of privacy.”
But also “many migrant workers in the country don’t have compatible phones that would allow them to download the app and comply”.
Online reviews have also complained that the app drains battery power and cannot be installed on older iPhone handsets.
Some have looked for ways around the policy.
“People are spending money and waiting in queues just to get burner phones to protect their privacy,” wrote expat engineer Janko on one forum, referring to cheap handsets that could subsequently be disposed of.
There have been reports of a few users being wrongly classified as “quarantined” or “suspected cases”.
“There’s no need for photo access and other things. But it could be a good tool. It is a good way to prioritise whom to test,” technology lawyer Rahul Matthan told AFP.
But “to work, they need a large number of people to use it. If people are dissuaded because of the app’s overreach, then that would be a worry.”
Qatar on Sunday began enforcing the world’s toughest penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment for failing to wear masks in public, as it battles one of the world’s highest coronavirus infection rates.
More than 30,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the tiny Gulf country — 1.1 percent of the 2.75 million population — although just 15 people have died.
Only the micro-states of San Marino and the Vatican had higher per capita infection rates, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Violators of Qatar’s new rules will face up to three years in jail and fines of as much as $55,000.
Drivers alone in their vehicles are exempt from the requirement, but several expats told AFP that police were stopping cars at checkpoints to warn them of the new rules before they came into force.
Wearing a mask is currently mandatory in around 50 countries, although scientists are divided on their effectiveness.
Authorities in Chad have made it an offence to be unmasked in public, on pain of 15 days in prison. In Morocco similar rules can see violators jailed for three months and fined up to 1,300 dirhams ($130).
Qatari authorities have warned that gatherings during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan may have increased infections.
Abdullatif al-Khal, co-chair of Qatar’s National Pandemic Preparedness Committee, said Thursday that there was “a huge risk in gatherings of families” for Ramadan meals.
“(They) led to a significant increase in the number of infections among Qataris,” he said.
Neighbouring Saudi Arabia will enforce a round-the-clock nationwide curfew during the five-day Eid al-Fitr holiday later this month to fight the coronavirus.
– Labourers at risk –
Mosques, along with schools, malls, and restaurants remain closed in Qatar to prevent the disease’s spread.
But construction sites remain open as Qatar prepares to host the 2022 World Cup, although foremen and government inspectors are attempting to enforce social distancing rules.
Officials have said workers at three stadiums have tested positive for the highly contagious respiratory virus. Masks have been compulsory for construction workers since April 26.
Tens of thousands of migrant labourers were quarantined in Doha’s gritty Industrial Area after a number of infections were confirmed there in mid-March, but authorities have begun to ease restrictions.
Khal said that most new cases were among migrant workers, although there has been a jump in infections among Qataris. He said the country had not yet reached the peak of its contagion.
Rights groups have warned that Gulf labourers’ cramped living conditions, communal food preparation areas and shared bathrooms could undermine social distancing efforts and speed up the spread of the virus.
Work on Qatar’s World Cup stadiums and mega-projects linked to the tournament have continued apace despite tough social distancing rules to stem the spread of coronavirus among the largely migrant workforce.
Dozens of labourers with covered faces and sporting near-identical blue overalls clamoured across the vast exoskeleton of Lusail Stadium, an arena set to host the final of the 2022 tournament, AFP correspondents saw on Thursday.
Dozens of vehicles including buses, diggers and water tankers criss-crossed the complex of new parks, apartment blocks and tram stops around the stadium, which will become Qatar’s largest with a capacity of 80,000.
The number of confirmed infections among those involved in construction for 2022 facilities stands at eight across three stadium projects, but organisers have not given an updated toll since Friday.
Qatari authorities have declared 7,764 confirmed infections nationwide, 10 deaths and 750 recoveries.
The supreme committee responsible for delivering the tournament said it “is reviewing the situation on a continuous basis and will take the necessary measures to protect the health and safety of all construction workers and direct staff”.
Those measures “may include temporary suspension of work as and when required,” it added in a statement.
Building work for the stadiums and infrastructure to stage the tournament has continued through the crisis even as non-essential retail has been halted and mosques, parks and restaurants have closed.
Work on roads, the airport and other infrastructure has continued during the health emergency.
From Sunday onwards, it will be compulsory for all construction workers in Qatar to wear masks.
Previously crowded buses ferrying labourers between their accommodation and work sites have been ordered to only allow one passenger for every two seats, in order to limit the transmission risk.
The labour ministry said last week it had issued a penalty to a contractor for failing to operate its worker transport buses at 50 percent capacity.
Rights groups have raised concerns that cramped living conditions, communal food preparation areas and shared sanitary facilities commonly found in labourer accommodation could exacerbate the spread of the virus and compromise social distancing measures.
Liverpool have made winning trophies a habit in 2019 and Jurgen Klopp’s side return to England and to their push for the Premier League title galvanised after being crowned world champions in Qatar on Saturday.
It is an honour the Anfield side had never before claimed but which is now theirs after Roberto Firmino’s extra-time goal secured a 1-0 victory over Flamengo in a hard-fought Club World Cup final in Doha.
The latest piece of silverware is Liverpool’s third in little over six months after they won the Champions League in June and began this season by winning the UEFA Supercup on penalties against Chelsea.
“The year 2019 for the club has been outstanding,” said defender Virgil van Dijk.
“But we shouldn’t be satisfied with it. We should keep going, keep striving for more, and keep wanting more trophies.”
Van Dijk returned against Flamengo after illness kept him out of the 2-1 semi-final victory against Monterrey and that determination to be back playing summed up Liverpool’s attitude towards the competition.
The Club World Cup is not held in the highest regard in Europe, coming in the middle of a busy club season.
That is in contrast to South America, with Flamengo’s huge support in Doha showing just how much Saturday’s game meant to them.
“It might have been different had we got beat, then maybe some people would have said we were wasting our time or whatever,” acknowledged Andy Robertson.
“But for us even if we did lose it was all worthwhile because we had a chance to win a trophy that the club had never won before.”
He added that “2019 has been incredible, we have won three trophies and hopefully in 2020 there is a couple more for us.”
Liverpool will continue their defence of the Champions League with a last-16 tie against Atletico Madrid in February, and host local rivals Everton in the FA Cup third round on January 5.
However, the Premier League is the one they really have in their sights as they seek a first English title since 1990.
As well as the trophies in 2019, Klopp’s team have not lost a league game since their very first outing of the year, at Manchester City. They have won 25 and drawn one of their last 26 in the Premier League.
There was more good news for them on Saturday as nearest rivals Leicester City lost 3-1 at Manchester City, leaving Liverpool 10 points clear at the top with a game in hand.
Klopp’s squad have little time for celebrations, however, as they return to England to prepare to visit Leicester on Thursday.
But while a week in Qatar might have seemed like an unwanted distraction for some in a busy schedule, Klopp was keen to point out that his team have still played the same number of games as their challengers.
“If we hadn’t played here tonight we would have played at West Ham, so the same number of games, the same situation, and the difference is the climate, even if it was not as warm as probably Europeans would have expected at the moment,” said the German.
“It is still something we have to adapt to. But that is the only thing that is special, so it’s all good, and we need to make sure that we come home safely, and recover in the plane already, and then prepare the Leicester game.”
With several players already out, however, the downside was seeing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain go off hurt in the second half against Flamengo, and the midfielder may be set for another spell on the sidelines.
“When he was landing he got a kick and rolled over. It is far away from being perfect, but we will see if the ligament is only stretched, or ruptured partly,” Klopp said.
“It’s a big shadow again but that’s how it is in a contact sport.”
Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, will not attend the Gulf summit in Riyadh, state media reported Tuesday, dampening hopes of a reconciliation between Doha and a Saudi-led bloc.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut all diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar in June 2017 over allegations it backs radical Islamists and seeks closer ties with Saudi arch rival Tehran.
Qatar vehemently denies the allegations.
The emir named Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al-Thani to lead the Qatari delegation to Tuesday’s summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the official QNA said.
Hopes of reconciliation were high after signs of a thaw between Qatar and its former allies.
Following Saudi King Salman’s invitation to the emir, Qatar’s foreign minister said there had been “some progress” in talks with Riyadh.
Some observers had said that the summit could pave the way for a “reconciliation conference”.
Others remained sceptical, saying he was only following protocol and had invited the Qatari leader to last year’s summit as well.
Qatar’s prime minister attended a series of talks in Saudi Arabia in May, one of the first high-level contacts of the two-year boycott.
Even before the Saudi-led blockade, relations had been rocky, in part because of Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera’s critical coverage of the region’s affairs and Doha’s support for the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.
The rift has seen the two sides trade barbs on everything from access to the Muslim holy city of Mecca to alleged Twitter hacking.
Qatar announced Tuesday a major expansion of its Hamad international airport, almost doubling the number of visitors it can receive as the Gulf state prepares to host the 2022 World Cup.
Work on the first phase of the expansion is scheduled to start next year and be completed two years later, expanding capacity from 35 million to 53 million passengers annually.
The second phase is due to be completed after 2022 and will enable the airport, inaugurated in 2014, to handle up to 60 million passengers per year.
The decision to revamp the only international airport in gas-rich Qatar comes despite a fall in the number of tourists visiting the emirate as a result of a two-year boycott mounted by neighbouring countries.
“The expansion… is a vital part of the future success of the Qatar Airways group, and of course of the country’s preparations to host the 2022 World Cup and beyond,” said the carrier’s CEO Akbar al-Baker.
The cost of the expansion project was not revealed.
Qatar has been under a land, air and sea embargo since June 2017 by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as Egypt, over its alleged support of radical groups.
Doha has categorically denied the accusations.
London-based Capital Economics said last month that the number of visitors to Qatar had dropped by 20 percent from pre-boycott levels “reflecting weak arrivals from the rest of the Gulf”.
In the first year of the blockade, flights to Doha dived 25 percent and Qatar Airways flights sank 20 percent, according to Capital Economics.
Qatar Airways reported last month that it posted $639 million in losses in the fiscal year ending in March, attributing the loss to closure of some major destinations.
To ward off the impact of the boycott, Qatar implemented an economic diversification plan and opened Hamad Port last year to boost trade and facilitate export-import services.
Also on Tuesday, Qatar opened a new temporary passenger terminal at Doha Port, as it works to increase the number of cruise ships making calls in the Gulf state.
Authorities said the terminal will serve until the completion of a port expansion plan due in 2022.
Projects related to the World Cup, estimated at dozens of billions of dollars, have not been affected by the boycott.
Qatar expects to host some 1.5 million visitors during world football’s premier event.
Qatar will inaugurate the third of its eight World Cup stadiums when the Education City ground hosts the Club World Cup semi-final tie on December 18, FIFA said on Monday.
The 40,000-seat venue seven kilometres (four miles) outside central Doha will also host the third-place play-off and the final of the tournament which gets underway on December 11.
The inaugural game will see Liverpool, as European champions, face either CONCACAF Champions League winners Monterrey, Al Sadd of Qatar or minnows Hienghene Sport of New Caledonia who are Oceania champions.
The 2022 hosts have so far inaugurated the newly-built al-Janoub stadium in May, as well as the Khalifa International stadium which opened in 1976 and was relaunched in 2017 after a full refurbishment.
“With all three venues located a maximum of 12 kilometres from central Doha, the FIFA Club World Cup 2019 will provide a glimpse of Qatar’s compact nature ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2022,” FIFA said in a statement.
“Taking place around the same time of the year and with matches kicking off from 17:00 local time (1400 GMT), this year’s tournament will also give teams and fans alike the chance to experience Qatar’s mild winter.”
Average temperatures are expected to range between 15 and 24 celsius (59 to 75 Fahrenheit), it added.
Hassan al-Thawadi, the secretary general of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, said following Al-Janoub’s opening in May that two further new stadiums would be ready “by the end of this year (or) first quarter” 2020.
The exact date would depend on the timing of events to launch the two venues, he added.
“By 2021 all our stadiums will be ready,” he said.
Qatar accused the United Arab Emirates Wednesday of a “campaign of violence and hatred” against its citizens, urging the International Court of Justice to quash a case brought by Abu Dhabi.
The Gulf states are locked in a battle at the UN’s top court, where the UAE on Tuesday asked judges to stop Qatar “severely aggravating” a two-year-old crisis between Doha and other countries in the oil-rich region.
Qatar’s lawyers, however, hit back, saying, in fact, it was Abu Dhabi who continued with “discriminatory policies that severely impacted Qatari citizens.”
“It is the Qatari people who are the true victims in the racial discrimination case, not the government of the UAE,” Qatar’s representative Mohammed Abdulaziz Al-Khulaifi said.
This included Abu Dhabi’s move to gag the Doha-based and state-funded Al Jazeera global news network, which was accused of spreading “propaganda”, the lawyer told the Hague-based tribunal.
“The silencing of… media voices is part-and-parcel of the UAE’s campaign to incite violence and hatred against Qataris,” Khulaifi said.
“Qatar has long been engaged in the fight against global terrorism and it continues to be.”
Qatar has faced an economic and diplomatic boycott since June 2017 by Gulf rivals who accused Doha of backing terrorism and being too close to regional rival Iran.
Doha has repeatedly denied the claims, accusing its rivals of seeking regime change and alleging the UAE broke the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
Last June, in a case brought by Qatar, the ICJ ruled that the UAE must allow families which include Qatari members to be reunited and that Qatari students must be given the chance to complete their education in the Emirates.
But Abu Dhabi on Tuesday went back to court, accusing Doha of blocking its own citizens from accessing Emirati websites to ease travel issues, and therefore failing to honour last year’s judgment.
Khulaifi parried those claims on Wednesday, saying that Qatar found a “high-risk security breach” on the UAE’s website including so-called “malware” designed to infiltrate Qatar’s information systems.
He said Doha told Abu Dhabi about the breach but the UAE was “yet to take steps.”