By Andrew Warshaw
November 13 – As Qatar’s relationship with its Gulf neighbours grows ever more tense, the man leading the country’s 2022 World Cup preparations has re-iterated, not for the first time, that his country has nothing to do with terrorism and is in fact leading the fight against it in the region.
The diplomatic and trade blockade of Qatar by a Saudi-led coalition threatens to sabotage the Gulf Cup in Doha early next year and potentially threaten the World Cup as well if the isolation intensifies.
But on a visit last week to Sheffield, where he spent his university years, Hassan al-Thawadi, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC) Secretary-General, insisted Qatar was “at the forefront of the fight against terrorism.”
Ever since controversially winning the bid to stage 2022, Qatar has been on the end of a barrage of criticism in terms of both its suitability – the tournament has been switched to winter as a one-off because of the heat – and its human rights record.
Last week, Qatari authorities were given a much-needed pat on the back from the International Labour Organisation over efforts to improve workers’ rights.
But the blockade by Saudi Arabia and its allies in the region – all powerful forces – is, at the very least, an unwanted distraction and, at worst, potentially extremely damaging and has taken over the 2022 narrative in terms of Al-Thawadi defending his country.
“The state of Qatar has committed to stop the supply of terror at the roots through initiatives such as education, empowerment, creating economic opportunities for people to ensure that they don’t follow down the path on the way to terrorism,” Al-Thawadi told The Associated Press on a courtesy visit to Sheffield FC, the oldest club in the world which is benefiting from Qatari investment.
“For whoever may want to bring this World Cup into a political debate, that is an action that they are doing unilaterally.”
On the question of foreign workers, Al-Thawadi said the ILO’s decision not to proceed with a probe into Qatar’s employment methods showed the country’s reform plan was working.
“Progress is being made. The journey has not ended, there is still more to be done and we are committed towards that. We are welcoming anybody that has any constructive criticism and will assist us in that journey.”
He also spoke to reporters at Wembley during England’s friendly with Germany on Friday when he re-iterated the same point about the Saudi-led blockade.
“We refuse to have this World Cup used as political pawn or a political tool because we believe in separating politics from sports,” said al-Thawadi even though, of course, the two are often intrinsically linked.
“I hope that the blockading nations see reason to be able to participate and join for the sake of the region benefiting out of this World Cup.”
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