FIFA World Cup 2022

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:00 pm on 20th October 2022.

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Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan 3:00 pm, 20th October 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the UK’s plans and preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.

The World cup is the biggest of global events and it will take place in just a few weeks’ time, so I thank the Backbench Business Committee for selecting this debate and for recognising its importance and status in terms of both international relations and supporting our fans from England and Wales who choose to attend the World cup. I hope to answer any questions and concerns that any fans may have. It is an extremely busy day here in Parliament. Normally this debate might well have been held in the main Chamber, but of course recent restrictions on parliamentary time have made that more difficult, so as I say, I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for recognising the importance and timeliness of this debate, and for scheduling it here in Westminster Hall.

I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and remind colleagues that I have the privilege of being the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Qatar.

The fact that two UK nations will compete in a global event is a cause for great celebration by the whole country. This is the first time since 1958 that Wales has qualified for the World cup finals. We have been waiting 68 years for this occasion and I cannot overstate the enthusiasm with which Welsh fans are looking forward to the tournament. It was with regret that in the last qualifying game we had to knock out Ukraine, even though we felt the world supporting Ukraine in that contest. Ukraine had already beaten another home nation, Scotland. It would have been great if all four home nations had been at the World cup finals. We look forward to the next tournament in four years’ time and hope they all qualify. However, before we do that, let us try to ensure that we play our full part in securing the success of this tournament.

In Wales, we have 68 years’ worth of built-up passion. Our time has come and I would say that Qatar’s time has come, too. We are two small nations punching well above our weight in our respective fields of expertise. The Minister here today, the Minister for the Americas and the Overseas Territories, represents a border constituency, so he will fully understand where my loyalties lie. Whereas we agree on almost everything else, this is one area where we will definitely differ. I look forward to Wales’s victory on 18 December, and who knows? It is not impossible that England may well join Wales in the final.

This tournament is also noteworthy because it is the first World cup to be held in a Muslim state. The significance of that should not be underestimated. Sport has the capacity to bring people together, to share and to help us all to better understand nations and cultures, to challenge perceptions and to bring about positive change for all stakeholders. It was Nelson Mandela who said:

“Sport has the power to change the world.”

This is a World cup for the whole of the middle east. It is an opportunity for nations to come together and for cultures to share each other’s successes. Many fans will stay in nations that neighbour Qatar, meaning that World cup fever will extend well beyond Qatar. The FIFA Arab cup last year was a great success and influencer, and an excellent precursor to this year’s tournament.

The state of Qatar and the United Kingdom have a strategic relationship that goes back over centuries covering a range of policy areas. It was a privilege to attend the opening of the South Hook terminal in Pembrokeshire in 2009, when His Highness the Father Emir of Qatar and our late Queen opened Britain’s first liquefied natural gas terminal. This terminal now has the capacity to supply 25% of the UK’s gas needs. Some might say, “What great foresight those planners had!”

More recently, demonstrating a further deepening of relations, the annual Qatar-UK strategic dialogue has been central to our partnership. The last one was held in May, when further commitments were made on energy, education, regional security, humanitarian and development co-operation, science and innovation, trade and investment, and so much more. The breadth of the subjects under consideration demonstrates the strength of our relationship and how important each nation is to the other.

I want to use this opportunity to put on record and pay tribute to the support Qatar gave the UK and other nations in evacuating Afghan refugees just over 12 months ago, which to my mind has not been recognised as much as it should. Qatar’s support was of significant strategic importance to so many nations around the world seeking to support Afghan refugees.

The communiqué to the dialogue highlights that the World cup also played a part in those discussions. UK military capabilities are providing support on security and counter-terrorism and against any malign activity. In August, it was good to hear the Qatar ambassador to the UK announce that it will be British Typhoons, flown by UK and Qatar pilots, that will be ready to respond to any threat to the tournament from the skies.

Of course, as with any major event of this type, there is rightly considerable press interest in a range of challenges, particularly as so many people from so many cultures will come together in this global celebration. Everything from travel and accommodation through to treatment of fans, human rights, policing, LGBTQ+ issues and alcohol consumption is being questioned.