The Qatar World Cup Supreme Committee were forced to hit back at the president of the Norwegian FA after she publicly criticised the country’s poor human rights record at the FIFA Congress in Doha.
Accusations concerning the treatment of migrant workers and a poor record of human rights have plagued Qatar since it was controversially awarded the World Cup finals 12 years ago.
Meanwhile, concerns have also been raised about female and LGBTQ+ supporters being able to attend the finals given male homosexuality is punishable by a prison sentence, same-sex marriages are not recognised by the government and women’s rights are much more restricted than in other parts of the world.
During Thursday’s FIFA Congress in the Gulf State, Norway FA president Lise Klaveness described the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar as “unacceptable” in the first place – and called for “necessary measures to really implement change” amidst the concerns.
“In 2010, World Cups were awarded by FIFA in unacceptable ways, with unacceptable consequences,” she said in front of FIFA and the World Cup Select Committee on Thursday. “Human rights, equality, democracy – the core interests of football were not in the starting XI until many years later.
“The migrant workers injured and the family members of those who died in the build-up to the World Cup must be cared for. FIFA, all of us, must take necessary measures to really implement change.
“There is no room for employers who do not secure the safety of World Cup workers, no room for leaders who cannot host the women’s game, no room for hosts who cannot legally guarantee the respect and safety of LGBTQ+ people coming to this theatre of dreams.”
Klaveness’ comments were addressed by Secretary General of the Supreme Committee Hassan Al Thawadi, who expressed his “disappointment” in the Norwegian officials’ public remarks without discussing it privately with the World Cup chiefs beforehand.
“I would like to express a disappointment,” Al Thawadi said in response. “Madame President [Klaveness] visited our country and made no request for a meeting, did not attempt to contact us and did not attempt to engage in dialogue before addressing congress today [Thursday].
“I urge everybody, we have always been open for dialogue, we have always welcomed constructive criticism that is based on discussion, understanding the issues and the context of the issues and understanding the progress and the facts that are on the ground.
“We have always had our doors open. We will always continue having our doors open for anybody who wants to understand the issues, who want to understand what it is and educate themselves before passing any judgement.”
FIFA defend Russian FA attendance at congress
The debate over Qatar’s human rights record was not the only controversy at the FIFA Congress on Thursday, as the attendance of the Russian Football Union (RFU) at the summit was questioned in the wake of the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russia were suspended from participating in any competitions by FIFA and UEFA earlier this month after the invasion, but the country’s football delegates were allowed to attend in Doha.
The Russian football chiefs were forced to watch an emotive video from Ukrainian football federation president Andriy Pavelko calling for fighting to stop in his country – but RFU administrator Alexey Sorokin was adamant that his own nation deserved representation in Doha.
“There’s always different kind of talks but legally it would not have seen any legal grounds for us not to be on the congress,” Sorokin told Sky Sports News on Thursday. “The Russian Football Federation did not break any FIFA statutes or any other regulations. Why should it not be present at the Congress? I don’t see any reason why.”
When asked about the message from the Ukrainian FA president, Sorokin responded: “I fully understood where he [Pavelko] is coming from but it’s his account of the situation. There may also be different accounts, but I do not want to engage in political discussion or the reasons why certain things are happening. We’re here about football.”
FIFA president Gianni Infantino defended Russia’s attendance at the congress, even though he backed his own decision to kick the country out of participating tournaments, including the World Cup qualification process.
“Russia as a football union, like any other federation, has not been suspended as such by FIFA and has been participating in this congress as well because if we don’t have occasions to bring people together like a congress then we rather stop and go home.
“We had to suspend Russia from participations. It’s not an easy decision, of course not. Now we have to look forward and hope the hostilities will stop. What we do is analyse every single situation and every single case on its own merits – and then, based on our conscience, we try to take the decision which is the right one in these particular circumstances.”
Sorokin disagreed with Infantino’s claims. “It would have been fair to Russian football fans if our team continued in the qualifications,” the RFU member said. “It would be just for us to win or lose our right to be in the World Cup on sporting grounds, not legal battles.”
Qatar on the front foot in their defence
Sky Sports News chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol in Qatar:
“This was an absolutely extraordinary FIFA Congress. I’ve been to lots, normally they are very boring affairs. But this one was like a Hollywood movie, there was so much going on!
“Lise Klaveness made that speech – criticising Qatar’s human rights record – in front of the Prime Minister who was sitting just a few feet in front of her.
“Then we had the very moving message from the President of the Ukrainian FA who was wearing a flack jacket. Obviously he couldn’t be here but he sent a video message. Then we had so much debate about human rights, the rights of migrant workers. Also the fact that homosexuality is banned in Qatar.
“But we’ve really seen a change in tone about Qatar this week. I think they’ve been going on the front foot. I think what they’re trying to say is: “We are going to stand up for ourselves. We are getting a lot of criticism, especially in the European media. But it’s time that we hit back a bit.” And they were on the front foot when protecting Qatar.
“All the football people we’ve spoken to here aren’t really focused on the issues that we have been focusing on. All they want to talk about is football. And tomorrow it will be on football because it’s the World Cup draw and we’ll find out who England will be playing and who Scotland or Wales will be playing if they manage to get through the play-offs and qualify.”