Qatar lined up to stage Pacquiao-Crawford fight in 2021

LONDON (AP) — It could be the Duel in Doha.

Preparing to host the 2022 World Cup, Qatar is now looking to attract big-name boxing.

Promoter Bob Arum has been in talks with Qatari officials about bringing a welterweight unification bout between Manny Pacquiao and Terence Crawford to the energy-rich Gulf nation. The coronavirus pandemic prevented it from taking place this weekend but the Top Rank CEO hopes it goes ahead there next year.

“We had closed the deal,” Arum, who represents Crawford, told The Associated Press. “They were very good people, big government people, and then the minister of health said, ‘I’m not going to approve spectators at the fight.’”

No fans means millions of dollars in lost revenue. Instead Crawford, the undefeated WBO welterweight champion, will fight Kell Brook, the former IBF welterweight title holder, in a lower-profile bout Saturday in Las Vegas.

“If Terence is successful in this fight, I will then go back to them and I believe by March or April, it’ll be an all clear with the vaccine and so forth, and we could put the fight on then,” Arum said in a video call ahead of Saturday's bout. "They were keen to do it and ... we were at the highest level of the government.

“So I’m optimistic that if Terence wins, we can put the fight on and if Terrence doesn’t win and Kell Brook wins, maybe I’ll make Kell Brook with Manny.”

Among the Qatari officials Arum has been talking to is Hassan Al-Thawadi, the chief organizer of the World Cup.

“He’s a big fight fan,” Arum said. “He really is very enthusiastic.”

Bringing a major fight to Qatar could attract the type of scrutiny of worker rights that led to World Cup organizers raising standards and conditions under pressure from human rights activists.

Saudi Arabia last December staged the first-ever heavyweight title fight in the Middle East, with Anthony Joshua's victory over Andy Ruiz Jr. shrouded in controversy over the kingdom's human rights violations.

“Is there repression to some extent in certain countries in the Middle East? Yeah, probably, yes,” Arum said. “But by coming and doing a big international event, we begin to ease that repression. I really believe that ... to change incrementally, the culture.”

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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