It is “not sensible” to criticise World Cup host nation Qatar, which invests heavily in the United Kingdom, former prime minister Tony Blair said on Monday.
Blair cautioned activists aginst showing “disrespect” to the Gulf country, which has come under incessant western scrutiny over its treatment of migrant workers and LGBTQ community.
As part of his first public remark regarding the major sporting event, he highlighted that homosexuality was still prohibited in England when it hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1966, which is a year prior to being decriminalised under British law.
“You can feel strongly about gay rights, and indeed, you know, my government introduced a huge amount of legislation on it and I’m a total supporter of it,” Blair told the News Agents podcast.
“But I think it’s not sensible of us to disrespect Qatar.
“This is their biggest event that they’ve held. It’s a huge, not just a sporting event for the country, but it’s a huge event for the country. They are allies of ours, they do invest a huge amount of money in this country,” he added.
Warning that the UK is in “danger” of going overboard with the negative judgement, Blair urged the UK not to be “over the top” in its assessment of Qatar and argued that the Middle East was undergoing a “social revolution” that would eventually lead to more “tolerant views” on women and homosexuality.
Since being awarded the hosting of the World Cup, Qatar has faced unprecedented criticism from Western media outlets and public figures. Doha has hit back, highlighting that no other World Cup host has been subjected to the same scrutiny.
Observers have also pointed out that previous international sporting events have been hosted in Western countries responsible for grave human rights abuses, including during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Blair, who served as UK prime minister from 1997 to 2007, led his country into both wars.
In a recent press conference, an Iranian reporter reminded the England’s team manager about the UK’s direct hand in the loss of innocent lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The reporter’s remarks came off the back of Western journalists quizzing Iran manager Carlos Queiroz on whether he is “okay representing a country like Iran at this World Cup that represses the rights of women?” during a press conference in Qatar ahead of the World Cup 2022 kick-off.
“We also could’ve asked, just as English reporters did to Queiroz, why you’re the head coach of a country that killed innocent women and children in Afghanistan and Iraq, regarding discontent towards the Queen’s funeral costs or the harsh winter that awaiting the UK and Europe because of Russia’s war,” the Iranian reporter said, addressing Gareth Southgate on the eve of the Iran versus England match last week.
The reporter then moved on from the case made to ask a question related to football and England’s match against Iran on Monday at Khalifa International Stadium.