My Lords, I first welcome this debate, instigated so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, and thank him for the opportunity to discuss a broad range of issues. With his approval, I do not intend to cover the matters he touched on, but to deal with FIFA, the World Cup and its sponsors, because those who support the events in the Middle East, in Qatar, at the moment are, in effect, supporting Governments there, and it is therefore relevant to raise this subject at this point.
I welcome the unbelievable courage displayed by the Iranian team in their match the other day against England, and also the actions by the German team in covering their mouths to indicate their objections to the silence being forced on teams and participants in the World Cup.
I am not going to pursue matters between one Government and another. The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, and others will, I am sure, deal with those in detail. I think we should look at the question of the influence that sport can have. We have all been brought up with the attitude that sport and politics should not mix, but the reality is that, for all of our lives, sport and politics have mixed, in terms of the eastern bloc, drug taking, performances at sporting events, and always aiming to prove that their system was the best. As a point of history, it is possibly worth bearing in mind, when the first reaction of many people is to say, “Oh, sportsmen should boycott these events”, that these events come round only once every four years. It is totally unfair to impose the burden on the sportsmen and sportswomen when it is the organising authorities that chose to put these events in Beijing or Qatar, or the like. The first boycott I can trace is that of the Dutch team for the Olympics in 1956, after Hungary was invaded by the Russians.
Sporting events are supposed to be free areas, where things that may not normally apply in particular country are accepted. This certainly applies to the World Cup in Qatar. What do we get just before the World Cup started? The Qatari World Cup ambassador saying of homosexuality that
“it is damage in the mind” and:
“They have to accept our rules”.
There is no indication of the freedom of a world tournament. What was significant about those statements was that FIFA said absolutely nothing. Nor did any of the football associations, as far as I can establish, and nor did any of the sponsors of the event. The response to those comments was utterly supine and there was no question that, when those comments were made, the event had become political.
I think it is worthwhile looking at those companies that sponsor the event, and FIFA: Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Adidas, Budweiser. They too have said nothing, although Budweiser has marginally indicated its embarrassment that the restrictions on beer sales have suddenly been imposed, to its disadvantage. Earlier this week, Coca-Cola held an event at the Two Chairmen. I was invited and I accepted. I went and asked questions of the senior person from Coca-Cola—I have the recording, which they knew I was making. I asked them to comment on the Qatari football ambassador’s observations and on the rant by Mr Infantino, the head of FIFA, just before the tournament started. I asked Coca-Cola to comment in relation to the ban on OneLove armbands. I have it all on my recording.
In response to Bloomberg asking Coca-Cola what it thought of those actions, Coca-Cola’s press statement declared that
“sport has the unique potential to bring the world together and be a force for good”— well, it does if it is followed in the right way. It continued:
“We are a long-time supporter of football and through our event partnerships, such as the FIFA World Cup, we see the potential to inspire and unite people.”
We can all agree with that.
“We strive for diversity, inclusion and equality in our business”— not in some wider community, but “in our business”—
“and we support these rights throughout society … Our experience has shown that change takes time and must be achieved through sustained collaboration and active involvement.”
There was no reference to challenging unacceptable comments.
I probably ought to declare some knowledge in these circumstances because I was, for a number of years, head of personnel for Coca-Cola Bottlers, and I was also head of the British Soft Drinks Association and therefore represented Coca-Cola, among others. It has done and said absolutely nothing.
This takes me to a quote often attributed to Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. In fact, as far as historians can establish, he never ever said it. However, it is a good quote that is well worth thinking about, and it is worthwhile the sponsors in particular thinking about it. In fact, JS Mill said:
“Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. He is not a good man who, without a protest, allows wrong to be committed in his name”.
The sponsors have a culpability for the events that we are witnessing in Qatar at this moment. They cannot just say, “Oh, it’s other people’s responsibility”. It is their responsibility because they are providing funds. They are providing the support, and if they do not object from a privileged position, is it surprising that FIFA’s absence of comment has to impose on the unfortunate footballers the responsibility of staying silent because they can do nothing else? Given what we are watching, I welcome every act of genuine protest from sportsmen and sportswomen in these circumstances, but it is done with courage and likely very substantial loss. It would be far better if the sponsors and organisers of this event took the courage into their own hands and did and said something.
On that basis, given that we are witnessing a complete continuity of what we witnessed in Beijing only a few months ago, it is about time that we, as an LGBT community and as people who believe in human rights, turned around—I include people in this Palace and in government departments—and said, “We will not purchase Coca-Cola, McDonald’s products or Budweiser”. It is only on that basis that companies that sponsor events in unacceptable locations and circumstances will hear the message. I hope that broadcasters in the media around the world will ask these companies what on earth they are doing and what they should be saying. Above all, it would be easiest in the case of Coca-Cola to answer questions from CNN, because they both have their headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, and they could go just a few miles from one headquarters to the other to broadcast their responses—as long as they are better than the one I have read.