Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:00 pm on 20th October 2022.
My right hon. Friend makes some extremely important points and I wholeheartedly agree with him. It goes back to comments I made earlier. I touched on what Nelson Mandela said—that sport can change the world—but I also highlighted, as my right hon. Friend underlined, the importance of bringing together cultures to better understand, influence and progress all stakeholders, so that that greater understanding and clarity move the agenda forward so that each nation respects, sees and supports human rights.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend David Mundell and I recognise the part he is playing. He rightly makes an important point about UK sport and UK football in particular. It is alarming that so few players have come out, which leading football commentators have commented on recently. It would be helpful to create momentum in the UK that would lead to the recognition and understanding of the fantastic diversity that people who actively participate in sport share and enjoy.
The APPG has taken these issues very seriously, as you would rightly expect, Mr Hollobone, and as my right hon. Friend, who is deputy chairman of the all-party parliamentary group, will recognise. We have organised and participated in a series of meetings and engagements with relevant and interested parties. I pay tribute to His Excellency Fahad bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah, Qatar’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, and his team for their open approach in seeking to answer the questions and concerns that we have raised. Whenever reports appear, the matters are raised with the ambassador and his political team—in a positive spirit, I underline. Our dialogue always continues so that we can better understand and influence each other’s thinking and background understanding, and develop a way forward.
In March, the all-party parliamentary group hosted a meeting in Parliament with His Excellency Hassan Al Thawadi—the secretary general of the supreme committee for delivery and legacy, which is responsible for bringing the World cup together—and the ambassador to the United Kingdom. Some 53 people attended. Members from all parties and both Houses, asked the most searching questions about some of the subjects that have been mentioned so far.
In May, the all-party parliamentary group on football, chaired by Mr Betts, hosted a meeting with the independent body FIFA Ethics and Regulations Watch. The group’s report on human rights, including LGBTQ+ and workers’ rights, was interrogated similarly by colleagues. In June, the all-party parliamentary group on Qatar and the all-party parliamentary group for sport, modern slavery and human rights held a joint session with the UN- sponsored International Labour Organisation. Its evidence, gathered from 2017 up to the present, was scrutinised in detail, and changes and progress since 2017 on those subjects that I have underlined was recognised.
Each of those sessions offered different perspectives and evidence, and reassured colleagues on many of the issues that have been raised. The International Labour Organisation in particular, with its wider remit, commented that Qatar is a major reforming nation within the region. That should be recognised as we have a constructive dialogue about other changes that we would like to see in the region, and about how the region would seek to influence the UK in terms of its understanding. I am aware of further speculation in the press and media, and look to the Minister and the Qatar authorities to offer further information and clarity on some of the issues that have been raised. Hosting an event such as the World cup is a fantastic privilege and it brings with it global attention. With that come further demands from the public and commentators alike.
On specific operational matters, it is good to see that the authorities have given reassurances that anyone with a ticket will have the right to accommodation. That is welcome, but fans seek further information on costs and available options. Many will travel with organised tour groups, and some from neighbouring countries, which will ensure that this is a World cup for the region. Fans will travel on shuttle flights between those nations. That will provide an additional complexity, but is a great way of bringing the region together to celebrate the hosting of the games. Cultural diversity in the region is also a relevant factor on which we must advise visiting fans.
Any movement into Qatar will require a negative covid test. Because of movement within the region during the group stages in particular, that could be a significant challenge for the host nation, wherever fans are staying. Further clarity on that would be helpful, because the host nation will face additional pressures in ensuring that fans can travel easily and freely within the restrictions that covid demands.
Alcohol is an interesting dimension of any tournament, and the World cup is no different. It will be even more complicated in a nation where the consumption of alcohol is more restricted than in many other countries. We are advised that supporters will be encouraged to visit the fan zones if they wish to consume alcohol. The policing and management of that will require a delicate balance. This is a challenge for whichever nation hosts such a major tournament, but police authorities in the western world are obviously more experienced in managing this type of situation. Any information from the Minister on how that will be managed would be helpful. I will, with the rest of the all-party parliamentary group, continue my dialogue with the Qatari authorities to bring better understanding, but the Government will of course have a distinct role in communicating and sharing the UK’s experience of managing the challenges that come naturally with the organisation of any such large event.