Football: Qatar emir slams ‘unprecedented’ campaign against World Cup hosts

DOHA – Qatar has been hit by an “unprecedented campaign” of criticism over preparations for football’s World Cup, its ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani said on Tuesday, calling the attacks “defamation” in a rare public airing of frustration.

“Since we won the honour of hosting the World Cup, Qatar has been subjected to an unprecedented campaign that no host country has faced,” he said in a speech.

Fifa awarded the World Cup to Qatar in 2010 and it has since spent tens of billions of US dollars on preparations.

But the energy-rich Gulf state has faced constant scrutiny over its treatment of foreign workers as well as LGBTQ and women’s rights.

“We initially dealt with the matter in good faith, and even considered that some criticism was positive and useful, helping us to develop aspects that need to be developed,” the emir told Qatar’s legislative council.

“But it soon became clear to us that the campaign continues, expands and includes defamation and double standards, until it reached an amount of ferocity that made many wonder, unfortunately, about the real reasons and motives behind this campaign,” he added.

Fifa president Gianni Infantino has said the Nov 20-Dec 18 Qatar World Cup, the first in an Arab nation, will be the “best ever”.

Earlier on Monday, French World Cup-winning hero Zinedine Zidane, who was an ambassador for Qatar’s successful bid, said it was “time to forget the controversies and focus on the football” at the 32-team tournament.

“I hope France have a great tournament but I don’t know yet if I will go to Qatar,” the former Real Madrid coach said as he attended the unveiling of his own wax figure at the Musee Grevin in Paris. He was accompanied by his parents, his wife and children.

The midfielder led France to glory at the 1998 World Cup on home soil, scoring two goals in the final against Brazil, and then won the 2000 European Championship with Les Bleus.

He also inspired an ageing French team to the 2006 World Cup final, but left the match in disgrace after being sent off for headbutting Italy defender Marco Materazzi. France ended up losing in a penalty shoot-out.

When asked about the World Cup, Zidane said the focus should now be on the sport “for all those fans who just want to watch the football”.

“In any case, it doesn’t matter what we say, it will never be enough, or true or the right thing to say,” the 50-year-old added. AFP, REUTERS

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