Qatar has faced unprecedented criticism over hosting the World Cup, emir says

DOHA, Oct 25 (Reuters) – Qatar has faced unprecedented criticism since winning the bid to host the 2022 World Cup, some of which amounted to defamation, its leader, the Emir, said on Tuesday. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

“We initially handled the matter in good faith,” Sheikh Tamim said in a televised political speech, adding that some early criticism was constructive.

But, he said, a campaign against Qatar has expanded to “include fabrications and double standards that were so fierce that they unfortunately left many questioning the real reasons and motives in the countryside”.

Qatar, the first country in the Middle East to host the World Cup, has come under heavy international criticism for its treatment of foreign workers and restrictive social laws.

The Emir was addressing a session of the Gulf Arab State’s Shura Advisory Council as Doha prepares to host the world’s premier football event, which kicks off on November 20.

Qatar is expecting 1.2 million visitors during the tournament, creating an unprecedented logistical and policing challenge for the tiny Arab Gulf state.

Sheikh Tamim said hosting the World Cup was “a big test for a country the size of Qatar”.

“We accepted this challenge because we have faith in our potential, we Qataris, to tackle the mission and make it a success,” he said.

“It’s a championship for everyone, and its success is a success for everyone.”

Doha has introduced reforms including rules to protect workers from heat and a monthly minimum wage of 1,000 riyals ($275), and says it is continuing to develop its labor system.

Foreign workers represent 85% of the approximately 3 million inhabitants of Qatar, which is among the main producers of natural gas in the world and one of the richest countries per capita.

Sheikh Tamim said rising energy prices helped Qatar achieve a budget surplus of 47.3 billion riyals ($12.8 billion) for the first half of 2022, against a projected deficit, and a gross domestic product growth of 4.3%, according to initial estimates.

“The budget surplus will be directed towards reducing the level of public debt and increasing the financial reserves of the state,” he said.

The World Cup would allow Qatar to show off its economic and institutional strength and cultural identity, he said.

Reporting by Andrew Mills in Doha and Ghaida Ghantous, Nadine Awadalla and Moataz Mohamed, Editing by Andrew Heavens, Robert Birsel

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