Qatar summoned the German ambassador on Friday over remarks by Germany’s interior minister, who appeared to criticize the decision to award the World Cup to the Gulf Arab nation because of its human rights record.
It was the first time Qatar has summoned an ambassador following years of heavy international scrutiny of its treatment of migrant workers and criminalization of homosexual relations.
With just weeks to go before the start of the soccer tournament, Qatari officials appear increasingly frustrated with such criticism, which they say is often unfounded and ignores progress on labor issues in recent years. Some have questioned the motives of critics, accusing them of unfairly singling out the first Arab or Muslim nation to host the world’s biggest sporting event.
Over 1.2 million fans are expected to descend on the tiny desert nation, whose natural gas riches have made it among the wealthiest countries on earth, for the month-long tournament that begins Nov. 20.
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, who is also responsible for sports, plans to travel to Qatar on Monday and Tuesday with the government’s human rights commissioner, German lawmakers and a delegation from the German soccer federation.
Her ministry said the visit would center on human rights questions regarding the tournament, including the protection of LGBTQ people against discrimination and persecution, and responsibility for migrant workers who built the stadiums.
In comments carried by German broadcaster ARD on Thursday, Faeser said that the German government is convinced that the awarding of major sports events should be tied to observance of human rights and sustainability. ARD reported that, asked about the decision to send the World Cup to Qatar, she said that “there are criteria that have to be kept to, and then it would be better not to award to such states.”
In an official statement issued on Friday, Faeser noted that “no World Cup takes place in a vacuum.” She added that with regard to future international sporting events, “we must ensure that their awarding and organization is tied to human rights standards.”
Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said it summoned the ambassador to convey its “disappointment and complete rejection and condemnation” of Faeser’s remarks. It did not specify whether it was referring to the comments to ARD or her official statement.
In a televised speech earlier this week, Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, said his country “has been subjected to an unprecedented campaign that no host country has ever faced,” one that has included “fabrications and double standards.”
The Al Jazeera news network, which is based in Qatar and funded by the government, published a video on its O2 digital platform suggesting that international criticism was rooted in “Qatarphobia,” with the West singling Qatar out because it is an Arab and Muslim country. The official Qatar news agency has aired comments from Qataris expressing anger at the criticism.
Qatar has said much of the criticism of its treatment of migrant workers ignores reforms enacted in recent years that have been praised by the U.N. as well as major human rights groups. Those groups have said, however, that implementation has been lacking and more needs to be done to address widespread abuses, including wage theft and harsh working conditions.
Qatari law punishes homosexual activity with 1-3 years in prison. Authorities have said LGBTQ fans are welcome to attend the tournament, while urging all visitors to respect the country’s conservative culture.
Several European teams in the World Cup have asked FIFA for permission for their captains to wear rainbow armbands as part of the “One Love” campaign. Federations have also expressed support for a campaign to set up a compensation fund for workers harmed during the construction of stadiums and sprawling infrastructure over the 12 years since Qatar was awarded the World Cup.
Associated Press reporters Geir Moulson in Berlin and Lujain Jo in Doha, Qatar, contributed to this report.