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Qatar: FIFA World Cup

Volume 825: debated on Thursday 24 November 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to (1) FIFA, and (2) the government of Qatar, regarding restrictions on players and fans attending the FIFA World Cup.

My Lords, Ministers and senior officials have raised the concerns of visitors to the World Cup with Qatari authorities at all levels and will continue to engage on this issue. Qatar has repeatedly committed that everybody is welcome to the tournament, including LGBT+ fans. We will continue to encourage equal treatment and respect for individual rights, and to identify what action the Qatari authorities are taking to match that commitment.

Is the Minister aware that in discussions we in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe had directly with the Qatari authorities and FIFA, we got categorical assurances that the human rights of fans and players would be properly respected? Since during the World Cup the venues and the surrounding areas are effectively international territory, will the Minister make it absolutely clear to the authorities in Qatar that they should honour human rights based on international norms?

My Lords, the answer is yes. Indeed, I have already done so. I am Minister for the Middle East and North Africa. I and my colleague the Minister for Sports have met the Qatari ambassador, and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary visited Qatar and met the Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. I thank the noble Lord for his work and that of the Council of Europe. He will know that the same assurances have been given, and we are working very constructively with the Qatari authorities. This is a time for celebrating football, and everyone, no matter who they are or where they are from, is part and parcel of that celebration. We look forward to the World Cup being a successful one and perhaps one, finally, of success for the home nations.

May I draw the attention of the House to the case of Professor Laura McAllister, a former Welsh international soccer player, who, when she entered a stadium earlier this week, had her multicoloured bucket cap removed by the officials working there? Will the Government make it clear to the authorities of that country that in no circumstances can similar international events be supported in that country if that is the way they treat visitors to it?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. We are aware of that case and have made that representation. Indeed, referring back to some of the meetings we have had, I have made it clear that there will be some supporters who may not be themselves part of the LGBT community but who wish to display solidarity and support. Indeed, many fans will be wearing the rainbow flag around their necks, walking down the streets of Qatar. That point is understood, and we have assurances from the ambassador, as I said. I am sure there will be instances, as the noble Lord has articulated, but we will follow up very quickly, as we are doing. I say to every noble Lord that if particular issues arise during the course of the World Cup, please raise them with me directly and we will make sure that the authorities in Qatar are made fully aware of our strong opinion on this matter.

I have just heard that a German Minister has decided that they will wear the OneLove armband when sitting next to a FIFA official while watching one of the matches. Will the Government give us an assurance that a gesture at least as important and as direct will be made if we have any representation at these matches? If not, why not?

My Lords, first and foremost it is for every individual to make whatever support they wish to indicate any community and any suppression of human rights. What is more effective in our advocacy—I am giving an answer and, while the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, may not wish to hear it, other noble Lords do. That is not the way of the House; it is appropriate to listen and hear. At the same time, I take on board what the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said. It is right that we make these issues very clear. Whatever issue of human rights is raised, we will raise it directly with the authorities, and we are working very constructively in this respect.

My Lords, teams have been banned from wearing the rainbow armbands. As we have heard, the Qatari authorities have banned fans from wearing rainbow T-shirts and rainbow hats. Does the Minister agree that such overreactions help no one, certainly not FIFA and certainly not Qatar, and they do not suppress the human rights abuses that are being carried on within Qatar and the other Gulf states?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point, we have a debate later today and I know we will discuss all elements of human rights. On his earlier point, I agree, as I have said. I am thankful to him and the noble Lord, Lord Collins. There were issues that arose in advance of the World Cup that were highlighted to me concerning particular demonstrations that took place, and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, feels that we handled that sensitively and effectively and resolved matters. That is the constructive way I am engaging on this issue.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for having made representations, but can he tell the House whether they have had any effect?

My Lords, obviously we rely on the reassurances of those in the most senior part of the Government. Instances are arising, as have been highlighted during the course of this Question, and as they arise they need to be dealt with effectively and in the interests of the fans concerned. We will continue to adopt that approach.

My Lords, we recognise that the game is going on and we may be celebrating the victory of teams, but we should not forget the families of the workers who suffered as a consequence of FIFA’s decision. Some 6,500 workers died building the infrastructure for this cup. In November and January of this year, I raised the ILO’s report on this matter. Can the Minister reassure me that he has raised this issue with the Qatari authorities and that proper compensation will be given to the families of the victims who suffered as a consequence of building those stadiums?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point, of course I will follow up. I am fully aware of the ILO report, and we have engaged directly with the Qatari authorities and the ILO on its findings—that was last year, in 2021—to ensure that this is followed up and that each individual case is dealt with on its merits, so that those who have suffered are given the appropriate support and indeed compensation. We will continue to engage with this issue, not just during the World Cup; it is important that we do it as a follow-up after the event as well.

My Lords, the football authorities have been found severely wanting, FIFA self-evidently for siting the World Cup not only in Russia but now in Qatar, UEFA for presiding over the near disaster—the calamity—at the Stade de France, and the FA for its supervision of the Euro final just a few years ago. When the World Cup is over, will the Minister suggest to the Secretary of State for Culture that she invites the leaders of those three associations to meet her and to explain to her how they all plan to raise their game?

My Lords, does the Minister share my disappointment that FIFA threatened the captain of the English team with a yellow card if he were to wear the OneLove armband?

My Lords, on a personal level, I do. There have been significant moments, such as taking the knee to stand up to racism and showing solidarity for every suppression of human rights. It is important that in an international tournament people get on with the game but, while it is a matter for FIFA, I am sure we all have our personal perspective on this issue.

My Lords, one of the questions being asked is how we ended up in this situation. Can the Minister advise the House what representations are being made to FIFA so that future tournaments are not awarded to countries that raise similar concerns?

My Lords, as my noble friend will know all too well as a former Minister in DCMS, this is a matter for that department. At the same time, the main engagement on this issue has been through the Football Association directly with FIFA, which is the normal way. But, to go back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Birt, it is important as we look forward that the issue is not just about celebrating tournaments. We should look at the countries that are chosen and taken forward to celebrate international events, but that is the time for profiling human rights in their own backyard. It provides an opportunity to have constructive engagement. In future decisions, which are for other people, we should make our views clearly known.

Does my noble friend agree that the only real heroes of Qatar are the Iranian footballers, the only people who have actually made a protest for which they are going to have to pay a price?

My Lords, as we celebrated England’s victory, I think we were all were touched by the poignancy and solidarity shown by the Iranian football team, people who were in solidarity particularly with the brave women of Iran. It was an incredibly courageous step, and we stand very much with everyone who is standing in unity with the Iranian people.