“The World Cup in Qatar is like any other sporting event in the world”

“The World Cup in Qatar is like any other sporting event in the world”

04 November - Media & Communication Dept. - Doha

By Benjamin Barthe and Clément Martel
Le Monde



Working conditions, security, air-conditioned stadiums: His Excellency Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, defends the organisation of the tournament in his country in an interview with "Le Monde".

Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani is the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, the host country of the next football World Cup. In this interview, conducted on Thursday 3 November in Paris, he talks about the many criticisms levelled against the Emirate two weeks before the start of the tournament.

How do you react to the recent calls for a boycott of the World Cup?

The reasons given for boycotting the World Cup do not add up. There is a lot of hypocrisy in these attacks, which ignore all that we have achieved. They are being peddled by a very small number of people, in ten countries at most, who are not at all representative of the rest of the world. It is frankly unfortunate. The reality is that the world is looking forward to this celebration. Over 97% of the tickets have been sold. Among the ten countries that bought the most tickets, we find European countries like France.

Since Qatar was awarded the World Cup in 2010, working conditions for workers have improved. But the main reform, the abolition of “kafala” (a system that shackles workers to their bosses and may develop into forced labour), came in 2020, after most of the infrastructure had been completed. Why did it take so long?

We recognised the problems with workers' welfare. We even invited NGOs to come and observe our system. We have come a long way in reforming our legislation. Such reforms take time. This is true for any country; it is not unique to Qatar. Of course, there are still flaws and we are determined to fix them. But why do we systematically blame our government for these problems, whereas in Europe, the slightest incident is blamed on the company? Why this double standard? I think there are some people who don't accept that a small country in the Middle East is hosting such a global event.

The workers who died in the run-up to the World Cup are another recurring subject of criticism. NGOs talk about thousands of deaths, while your government officially recognises only three deaths, only on stadium construction sites. Why do we still not have precise statistics on deaths on all the construction sites linked to the World Cup?

Every death is a tragedy. In Qatar, we gather and publish mortality figures every year, broken down by age, gender, cause of death and type of employment. Of course, the majority of these deaths are not work-related. They reflect the demographic structure of Qatar, which has a very diverse population. What is clear is that the figures cited by the media are false or misleading.

Qatar recently introduced a minimum monthly wage of 1,000 riyals (281 euros), in addition to meals and accommodation. In this immensely rich country, which has the highest GDP per capita in the world, isn't this amount shocking?

No, it is not. The amount is proportional to the cost of living in Qatar, the level of prices and the size of the Qatari economy. This minimum wage is enough to live a decent life.

Amnesty International has asked FIFA to allocate $400 million of the $6 billion in profits from the World Cup to create a compensation fund for workers whose rights have been violated in the run-up to the World Cup. Your Minister of Labour has just rejected this request. Why?

Such a fund already exists and has proven its value. Last year, $350 million was disbursed from this fund. This money went to employees who were deprived of their wages and whose companies are now facing court cases, to employees who were injured at work or to cases of work-related deaths. This mechanism works very well. So why should we duplicate it?

One of our journalists recently visited Nepal. She had no difficulty in meeting women whose husbands had died in Qatar and who had received no compensation...

You can lead us to these cases, and we will guide them to the fund. You know, a few days ago, I read a commentary that said that Qatar is not intellectually and culturally ready to host a World Cup. Is such racism acceptable in Europe in the 21st century? Football belongs to everyone. It is not reserved for a club of elites. Four hundred and fifty million Arabs are delighted that the World Cup is finally being held in their region.

Will the air conditioning system installed in stadiums be in operation during the matches?

Temperatures in Qatar in November-December are almost cooler than the temperatures in Europe during the summer. So, air conditioning will not be used. But think about the fact that some European stadiums are heated during the winter. That does not pose a problem. So why is it a problem that our stadiums are air-conditioned, even though the technology used is more modern and has a smaller environmental impact?

England will send police officers to Qatar, to act as a buffer between English fans and local law enforcement, on the basis that the cultural difference might confuse some of them. How will this work?

The World Cup in Qatar is like any other sporting event in the world. Qatar has a friendly relationship with these countries, in Europe, in South America and we are working with them on security. Security forces from France, England, and other European countries will work hand in hand with our police. They will not act on their own, we will coordinate everything, because we are responsible for the security of everyone, whether they come from England, France or Africa. We are one of the safest countries in the world, and this World Cup will be one of the safest in history.

Many observers anticipate a "clash of cultures" between fans from all over the world and your country. How will you respond?

We are a very welcoming people, and the entire world is welcome in our country. All we ask is that fans respect our laws, just as we are expected to respect yours when we visit you. Our security forces will ensure a safe World Cup, and there will be no confrontations unless certain behaviours put people in danger. That is the only situation in which they would intervene.

The Australian national team, which is competing in the tournament, has published a video in which it denounces the "suffering" associated with the organisation of the tournament in the country. How would you react if some of the players spoke out during the World Cup on non-sporting issues?

At the moment, the world is extremely divided, we are just coming out of COVID-19. We hope that this tournament will be a celebration, where everyone can discover our country and our culture. Our people are very hospitable and tolerant. If players want to express their opinion, they will be free to do so, we will never stop anyone from expressing themselves.

It has often happened in the past that stadiums built for a major sporting events are abandoned as soon as the tournament is over. How do you plan to avoid this?

The difference is that there is a perfect alignment between the infrastructure we have built for the World Cup and the infrastructure the country needs. Some of the stadiums will be dismantled, including one that will be completely dismantled and reused in another country. Some stands will be donated to other countries. And all other stadiums will be used after the World Cup. Several other major sporting events are planned in our country after the World Cup, such as the 2030 Asian Games.

So, will the sporting soft power in which Qatar has invested for two decades continue after the Cup?

This policy started long before we were awarded the World Cup, and it will continue afterwards. Our ambition is to do things that bring people together and unite them. Sport is an important tool to achieve this goal. Our country is ready to host major sporting events. The World Cup is just one example of this.