Qatar ‘keen’ on being a welcoming World Cup host, UK’s FM says

The Gulf state’s reforms garnered praise globally as it edged closer to hosting the tournament.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has said that Qatar is “keen” on being a welcoming host country of the World Cup, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

“I’ve just returned from Qatar. We raised the issues of being a welcoming host nation and the Qataris are very keen to do so,” Cleverly told the news agency in London.

Cleverly was in Doha on Monday as England played against Iran in a match that ended with a crushing 6-2 victory for the Three Lions.

The British minister’s visit came amid ongoing criticism over Qatar’s alleged human rights violations, especially towards the LGBTQ+ community. 

The topic has Western media headlines, despite Qatar’s repeated statements on welcoming all fans to enjoy the sport on its lands.

“My duty is to make sure that the English and Welsh fans that are in Qatar to enjoy the football are able to do so: enjoy themselves, be themselves, and be safe and secure whilst they’re doing it,” said Cleverly.

Separately, the BBC quoted Cleverly on Wednesday saying that Qatar has “taken real steps to ensure that gay football fans are safe and do feel secure and can enjoy the football.” 

While the Gulf state has maintained its stance on LGBTQ issues, a senior Qatar World Cup official previously assured that fans will not face any discrimination in light of recurring reports.

“At the end of the day, as long as you don’t do anything that harms other people, if you’re not destroying public property, as long as you’re behaving in a way that’s not harmful, then everybody’s welcome and you have nothing to worry about,” Nasser Al Khater, World Cup Qatar 2022 CEO, told Sky News in October.

In May, when asked about the attendance of LGBTQ fans at the World Cup, Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani stressed that “everybody is welcome in Doha ”.

“We do not stop anybody from coming to Doha with any different backgrounds, any different beliefs, Qatar is a very welcoming country,” the amir told the press during his visit to Berlin.

Sheikh Tamim added that the country already welcomes “millions” of visitors and the World Cup serves as “a great opportunity” for people all over the world to experience the Qatari culture.

“We welcome everybody, but also we expect and we want people to respect our culture,” said the Qatari leader.

FIFA armband decision

The statements also came on the day FIFA dropped the “One Love” armbands, just hours after England captain Harry Kane and several other national captains said they would defy any prospective ban on the rainbow armbands.

A question on the matter was raised in Doha on Tuesday by the US media to Washignton’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Responding to the question, Blinken said that placing restrictions on freedom of expression “is always concerning”, especially when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

“In my judgment, at least no one on a football pitch should be forced to choose between supporting these values and playing for their team,” said the US official.

Since gaining the right to host the World Cup back in 2010, Qatar has come under increased international scrutiny on human rights and LGBT issues. 

The amir has said the campaign Qatar faced was “unprecedented”, while raising questions over its underlying motives. Racism was also cited among officials, given that Qatar is the first Arab, Muslim country to host the event.

Some of the criticism Qatar faced has also centred on its treatment of migrant workers.

Qatar has repeatedly responded responded by citing its efforts to reform its legislation to address the concerns. Among the most important steps was the dismantling of the controversial kafala, or sponsorship, system. 

Secretary Blinken was the latest to praise Qatar’s “meaningful strides” in addressing labour rights, joining other officials in highlighting Doha’s reform.

“Real work remains on these issues, and the United States will continue to work with Qatar on strengthening labor rights and human rights more broadly long after the World Cup is over,” added Blinken.

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