People “cannot accept a small country from the Middle East” hosting the World Cup and those criticising the tournament are “arrogant”, Qatar’s foreign minister has told Sky News.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani described negative media coverage of the upcoming tournament as “misinformation” in an exclusive interview with Sky News Middle East correspondent Alistair Bunkall.
“Preaching from a distance is not a solution,” he said.
“Calling to boycott the World Cup, or those who are not coming to the World Cup, it’s their decision at the end of the day, but why deprive the people and the public from attending and enjoying the World Cup.”
Asked about the competing nations’ criticism of the hosts, he replied: “What kind of message are they sending to their own public?
“What about their own problems within their countries, which they are turning a blind eye? Honestly, not me or the Qatari people only, but there’s a lot of people from around the world who are just seeing this as a sense of arrogance.
“A sense of people who cannot accept a small country from the Middle East has won the bid to host the World Cup.”
In the 12 years since Qatar was awarded the tournament, concerns have been repeatedly raised about its human rights record, treatment of migrant workers who built the stadia, and the LGBTQ community.
Its foreign minister’s comments come after English and Welsh football officials said they would continue to campaign on human rights issues in spite of FIFA calls for teams to stay out of politics.
Both teams have said they will wear OneLove rainbow armbands in solidarity with LGBTQ people.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino and secretary general Fatma Samoura wrote to the 32 competing nations last week, saying: “Please do not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists.”
Public affection banned between men and women too
Asked about LGBTQ supporters travelling to Qatar, Mr Bin Abdulrahman al Thani said that public displays of affection are banned between all people – not just same-sex couples.
But pressed on previous comments that fans will be allowed to hold hands, he added: “Holding hands is not a public display of affection as far as I know.”
Qatar might be fed up with criticism but it’s not going away
The Qataris are fed up with the continuing media coverage and high-profile statements criticising the country’s right to hold one of the greatest sporting events on Earth.
They feel that they have absorbed the criticism for years, but now, two weeks out from the World Cup kick off, believe it is time to focus on the football.
That’s not going to happen.
Sport and politics have long been entwined, and modern-day international footballers know they can be very effective when they use their profiles as platforms to call for change.
For the country’s most senior diplomat to describe the criticism as “arrogance” is extraordinary and will no doubt be seen by many as inflammatory.
Read the full analysis here.
Quizzed on the announcement FA president Prince William will not travel to Qatar, the minister said “he decided not to come because of his calendar”.
“I hope his schedule will allow, and he will come to support the England team,” he added.
Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer is another high-profile figure not attending.
Klopp on footballers’ comments about Qatar
Why is the Qatar World Cup so controversial?
With seven of the eight stadiums built from scratch, human rights groups have consistently highlighted Qatar’s mistreatment of the migrant workers who constructed them.
In particular, they have condemned the country’s “kafala system” – a set of labour laws which allow Qatari individuals or businesses to confiscate workers’ passports and stop them leaving the country.
Reports of migrant death numbers range from a few dozen to several thousand during the 12 years of preparation for the tournament.
Asked about worker mortalities and the compensation fund that has been set up for their families, Mr Bin Abdulrahman al Thani said it had been “working very effectively in the couple of years”.
“Already around $350m has been dispersed last years for the workers and this proven to be effective,” he said.
“If there are any issues or gaps with the execution of the current fund they should come and talk to us to improve it not to duplicate,” he added.