Guards stand in queues outside Stadium 974 in Doha on Tuesday, ahead of the Fifa World Cup 2022, which begins on Nov 20.—AFP
Guards stand in queues outside Stadium 974 in Doha on Tuesday, ahead of the Fifa World Cup 2022, which begins on Nov 20.—AFP

DOHA: Facing a storm of European criticism before the start of the World Cup, Qatar on Tuesday stepped up its diplomatic and media riposte which has included threatening “legal” action to defend its name.

Five days from the opening game, Qatar’s chief World Cup organiser said attacks on the Gulf state had been launched because it “competed as equals and snatched” the World Cup from rival bidders. A senior member of the Qatar Football Association called European critics “the enemy”.

In an interview, Qatar’s Labour Minister Ali bin Samikh Al Marri said “racism” was behind the onslaught on his country’s record. “They don’t want to allow a small country, an Arab country, an Islamic country, to organise the World Cup,” he said.

Facing criticism of its treatment of foreign workers and rights for women and the LGBTQ community, the wealthy Gulf state has long used the case that everyone is “welcome” at the World Cup and said opponents were acting in bad faith.

Official says Doha exploring legal options to ensure those responsible for defaming country are held to account

The tone has changed in recent weeks, highlighted by comments by the emir, Sheikh Tamim Hamad Al Thani, who told the national legislature on Oct 25 that Qatar had faced an “unprecedented and growing campaign” that smacked of “double standards”.

Three days later, the German ambassador to Doha was summoned over comments made by his country’s interior minister casting doubt on whether Qatar should host the World Cup.

Qatar’s media has spoken of a “systematic conspiracy” by European rivals.

The Al Sharq newspaper slammed “the arrogance” of some European countries.

On a recent European tour, Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani said in media interviews that there was “a lot of hypocrisy in these attacks”.

“They are being peddled by a very small number of people, in 10 countries at most, who are not at all representative of the rest of the world,” he told Le Monde without naming those involved.

‘Enemy is a blessing’

Sheikh Ahmed bin Hamad Al Thani, a member of the Qatar Football Association executive, told Al Sharq in an interview published on Tuesday: “For me, the presence of the enemy is a blessing and not a curse, because this may push you to do your work in the best possible way.”

After a recent British media report on the hacking of opponents of Qatar’s World Cup hosting, a government official warned: “Qatar will not stand by when confronted by such baseless allegations, and all our legal options at our disposal are being explored to ensure those responsible are held to account.”

The bitterness expressed in some newspaper editorials is starting to be seen in comments by some officials.

Hassan Al Thawadi, secretary general of Qatar’s organising committee, told Al Jazeera television that the Gulf state’s unnamed opponents were jealous of its hosting.

“The campaigns are due to the fact that Qatar is an Arab country that was able to compete as equals and snatch the hosting of the tournament.”

He said the attacks were based on “the stereotyped image of the Arab world, which is one of the reasons we fought to host the World Cup, to change the stereotyped idea about Arabs”.

A European diplomat in Doha said the Qatar government had reached “the end of the line with the criticism”. “They blame us even though very little is coming from governments,” added the diplomat.

Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2022

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