Qatar’s bilateral relations with nations at FIFA World Cup steadfast in the face of player protests

While the FIFA World Cup ends on the 18th of December, diplomatic relations don’t, with the Danish government’s stand being an exception.

In Qatar, player protests during the ongoing FIFA World Cup have rarely reflected or affected bilateral relationships between the host nation and participating countries from around the world.

In Qatar, player protests during the ongoing FIFA World Cup have rarely reflected or affected bilateral relationships between the host nation and participating countries from around the world. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

While the FIFA World Cup ends on the 18th of December, diplomatic relations don’t, with the Danish government’s stand being an exception.

Qatar hosts the 2022 FIFA World Cup amidst a barrage of protests from players and supporters over LGBTQ rights, human rights violations and other issues.   

Players including the likes of England captain Harry Kane wore the ‘no discrimination’ arm bands signifying FIFA’s support for the LGBTQ community. This came after players were explicitly told to not wear the ‘One Love’ armbands, which have come to be a mark of protest against the anti-gay laws in the emirate, with the consequence being incurring a yellow card if players were to disobey.

However, while the players have been vocal, their governments have tried to maintain status quo. 

While the reasons behind a hushed government stance vis-a-vis the tournament could be manifold, a few can be found in the deeply entrenched bilateral and trade relations these countries share. 

The United Kingdom and Qatar as recently as May 2022 have commemorated 50 years of their bilateral relations and, with it, multiple agreements over the years that bind these two countries together.   

A joint communique in 2022 said, ‘Qatari investment in the UK economy is estimated to be over £40bn and significantly supports jobs, innovation, levelling up and economic development in both countries.’

However, this is just a stepping stone. Qatar and UK also have multiple strategic dialogues including the Qatar-UK Strategic Investment Partnership and UK-Qatar Energy Dialogue which, according to the two countries, is meant to ‘forge ever closer cooperation’.

On the World Cup front, the same communique refers to a dialogue between the two heads of state discussing ‘the legacy that the tournament can provide, and how it can support the objectives of Qatar’s National Vision 2030’.

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 23: Germany players pose with their hands covering their mouths as they line up for the team photos prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group E match between Germany and Japan at Khalifa International Stadium on November 23, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 23: Germany players pose with their hands covering their mouths as they line up for the team photos prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group E match between Germany and Japan at Khalifa International Stadium on November 23, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images) | Photo Credit: Alexander Hassenstein

While Kane wore the ‘no discrimination’ arm band in support of people from the LGBTQ community, the German team kept their hands on their mouth in a pre-match team photograph, after being denied the use of ‘One Love’ armbands to protest against the harsh LGBTQ laws in the emirate.  

However, like the United Kingdom, Germany too has ‘good cooperation’ and ‘excellent trade relations’ according to a foreign relations document published on the German Federal Office website.  

German exports to Qatar were worth around 1.1 billion euro in 2020, and German imports from Qatar approximately 300 million euro. Interestingly, relations in the area of sports for the two countries focus on football and table tennis.  

The policy document on German-Qatar relations also lays emphasis on Qatar being one of the largest foreign investors in Germany with significant holdings in companies including Volkswagen, Deutsche Bank, etc.  

The influence of sound trade agreements carries forward to France and Belgium as well. Players from both these European nations have shown their dissatisfaction over the stringent policies of the organizers, but once again governments remained reluctant to speak about the same.   

Belgian players, in the run-up to the Qatar World Cup, wore t-shirts with the slogan ‘Football supports change’ as a stand against human rights violations.  

As per official government statements on their bilateral relations, the countries have a long-standing relationship with the emirate. France established relations with Qatar straight after the latter’s independence in 1971, while Belgium’s relations were established as a part of the European Union in 1988.   

Belgium was also the first European country to sign the LNG import agreement with Qatar in 2006, stressing that the State of Qatar is the main supplier to the latest liquefied natural gas station in Zeebrugge, a gateway to supply LNG to North-Western Europe.  

France has taken a different route to the protests. While the French captain and team have harped on concentrating on football, multiple French cities have boycotted public viewing of the World Cup matches in protest of the human rights violations in Qatar.  

France’s trade, however, with Qatar totalled €1.6 billion in 2021, making Qatar France’s eighth-largest customer in the Near and Middle East. With €321 million in trade surplus, the emirate is France’s fourth-largest trade surplus in the region.  

France also signed an intergovernmental agreement on 15 March 2021, drawing up a security partnership for the 2022 football World Cup, according to France’s Ministry of External Affairs.  

With all these governments taking a rather cautious approach towards the host nation. The Danish government is the only one to officially take a stand as they refused to send any members of government or royal family representatives to the World Cup.   

On the other hand, The Dansk Boldspil-Union or Danish Football Association, also took a strong stance. Its head of communications Jakob Hoyer, speaking about the Qatari bonds it held, told AFP, “We have divested them. For six, seven years, DBU has had a critical dialogue with Qatar about holding the World Cup in the emirate. In light of this dialogue, it was not a good signal to have these bonds.”

While the Danish government’s stand is an exception, a look at the bilateral relations might not give all the answers but stands to say that, while the FIFA World Cup ends on the 18 th of December, 2022, diplomatic relations don’t. 

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