The 2022 FIFA World Cup is all set to begin this weekend. It may be held in November, but it is still, beyond a doubt, the greatest sporting tournament in the world. In order to transport players, fans, and media from all over the world, airlines have offered chartered planes and altered schedules.

However, even the football World Cup logistics are not immune to geopolitics. It was initially thought that Israeli flights to the World Cup would need to make a stop in Cyprus, as direct flights to Doha are not normally permitted. Now, due to a last-minute decision seemingly brokered by FIFA, this is no longer the case.

The news was offered by TUS Airways and reported by Reuters on Friday. Cyprus-based TUS will now be allowed to transport passengers directly from Israel to Doha and says it will operate six flights from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport (TLV) beginning Sunday.

This was not entirely unexpected, as FIFA declared last week it would arrange the operation of direct charter flights between Tel Aviv and Doha. However, up until today, Qatar still required TUS Airways to make a “diplomatic” stop in Cyprus, where the airline is based at Larnaca International Airport.

El Al and Etihad aircraft at Ben Gurion
Photo: Getty Images

Platform to further improve relations in the region?

FIFA has also stated that all holding a valid Hayya fan ID card (a personalized identification document required by every person attending any matches) – including Palestinians, who are usually not allowed to use Israeli airports – will be allowed to board direct flights from TLV to DOH during the World Cup. They will also need to be able to present a return ticket from Qatar.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino commented with some forward-looking optimism on the arrangements,

“We are delighted that an agreement has been reached for Israeli and Palestinian fans to visit Qatar and attend matches during the FIFA World Cup. With this deal, Israelis and Palestinians will be able to fly together and enjoy football together. I would like to thank our Israeli, Palestinian and Qatari counterparts for helping to make this happen.

“Football has the power to bring people together, it transcends all boundaries, crosses all borders, and fosters unity like nothing else. The World Cup is the ultimate symbol of football’s unifying power, and today’s historic announcement provides a platform to improve relations across the Middle East”.

Qatar Airways Airbus A350-941 A7-AMH
Photo: Vincenzo Pace I Simple Flying

No change beyond the Cup, Qatar says

Qatar and Israel have no formal relations with one another. The latter has sent diplomats to Doha in order to assist any of its citizens that have traveled to attend the tournament. However, Qatar insists that the allowing of direct flights does not indicate a change in stance toward normalizing relations with Israel. This will continue to be dependent on Palestinian statehood achieved through a two-state solution, a representative of the Qatari authorities told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters, FIFA

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Author: Alan Johnson