Rishi Sunak has 'no plans' to attend Qatar World Cup

Rishi Sunak at the Bishops Mill pub in Salisbury watching a screening of the UEFA Women's Euro 2022 final held at Wembley Stadium. Picture date: Sunday July 31, 2022.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said he had "no plans" to attend the controversial event. Credit: PA

The government has confirmed Rishi Sunak does not plan to attend the Qatar World Cup in support of England and Wales, despite MPs not being banned from going.

The number of fans, organisations and cities choosing to snub this year’s competition continues to rise due to concerns over the Gulf state’s human rights record.

The prime minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “No plans for the PM to attend, but we confirm travel nearer the time.”

Asked if there was a ban on attendance, they replied: “Not that I’m aware of.”

Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell announced last month that Labour would not be sending a delegation to the Middle East nation in a stand against its criminalisation of same-sex relationships and its treatment of migrant workers.

Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford, however, said he would be making the trip with two of his cabinet for the group stages, claiming he would use the platform “to promote Wales and engage in diplomacy”.

Last week, the Welsh government said it would now not be attending Wales’ match against Iran in response to the events which have unfolded since 22-year-old woman Mahsa Amini died in the custody of the country’s morality police.

The decision was not related to the wider debate about whether the entire visit to Qatar was appropriate, the government told BBC Wales.

Politicians and political parties are not alone in having to grapple with the controversy surrounding the tournament.

The Welsh team are free to speak out about human rights issues during the World Cup, the Football Association of Wales said. Credit: PA

National teams, as well as celebrities, commentators and members of the royal family have faced pressure to make their decisions on the matter public.

The England and Wales teams decided against removing themselves from the running for the world’s biggest sporting event, with their games expected to go ahead as planned.

Both squads have instead opted for wearing the ‘One Love’ armbands in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.

The Football Association of Wales said its players have been told they have the freedom to speak out on any issues that concern them during the 28-day-long World Cup.

None of the 32 sides taking part have pulled out, despite calls by a number of local teams for a boycott.

Australian team the Socceroos became the first team to come out with a collective statement criticising host Qatar’s human rights violations.

In the impassioned video, team members said the “decision to host the World Cup in Qatar has resulted in the suffering and harm” and called for its authorities to strengthen labour rights and to decriminalise same-sex relationships.

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A growing number of French cities, including Paris, have joined a boycott and will not show World Cup matches in public places or set up fan zones. The mayor of Marseille claimed the competition had “gradually turned into a human and environmental disaster”.

Football pundit and former England striker Gary Lineker, who is commentating at the World Cup for the BBC, told The News Agents podcast that there was a responsibility with reporting the tournament and that he would not shy away from “p****** off” Qatar.

Fellow footballing legend David Beckham has been heavily criticised for accepting £10 million to be an ambassador for Qatar. A televised campaign he starred in, which claimed the World Cup will be carbon neutral, has been reported to UK and European watchdogs.

Prince William, who is president of the Football Association, has claimed he has “no plans” to attend the World Cup due to a busy winter schedule but may look at going if England reaches the final.

But as the tournament nears, pressure to boycott the World Cup grows, with campaigners beginning to ask celebrities such as Robbie Williams, who will be performing in Doha, not to support the World Cup.

Fifa has written to all teams competing telling them to “now focus on the football” following a controversial build-up.

Qatar’s minister of foreign affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told French newspaper Le Monde the reasoning behind the boycotts “do not add up”.

“There is a lot of hypocrisy in these attacks, which ignore all that we have achieved,” Sheikh Mohammed added.