'Don’t disrespect Qatar': Sir Tony Blair says it's time to 'move on' from World Cup protests about LGBTQ+ rights

28 November 2022, 12:24 | Updated: 28 November 2022, 13:05

Sir Tony Blair has said he thinks it's time to move on from protesting about Qatar's human rights record
Sir Tony Blair has said he thinks it's time to move on from protesting about Qatar's human rights record. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Former PM Sir Tony Blair has said protests over Qatar's human rights record that take place during the World Cup are in danger of going "over the top."

He said: "It's not sensible of us to disrespect Qatar. This is their biggest event they’ve held.

"It’s a huge event for the country. They are allies of us, they invest huge amounts of money in this country.

"One of the things I can see now is a kind of social revolution going on across the Middle East and I think it will in the end change the role of women and things like gay rights.

"Make your point, but then having made your point you recognise for the country it’s a very important event.

"There is a process of change. Is it happening quick enough? No - you always want it to happen quicker, but there is this process of change happening across the Middle East," he said on The News Agents podcast with Emily Maitlis and Jon Sopel.

He said wearing a OneLove armband would not “determine whether the country moves into a more progressive position or not.”

Read more: Chinese TV edits out live crowd shots from World Cup as 'Zero Covid' backlash grows in China and protests erupt

Read more: BBC journalist beaten and kicked by Chinese police while covering anti-lockdown protest in Shanghai

"It’s important now I think having made the point, we move on."

Since long before the start of the tournament, protesters have highlighted the Gulf state's treatment of migrant workers, the anti-LGBTQ+ stance, and the country's record on environmental issues.

A row erupted at the start of the tournament over players’ plans to wear OneLove armbands to promote inclusivity and LGBTQ+ rights.

Tony Blair addresses criticism around Qatar hosting the World Cup

England along with six other nations were planing to wear the armbands during games in protest at Qatar, which criminalises same-sex relationships.

The FA confirmed the players would not wear the armbands, after FIFA threatened sporting sanctions for anyone wearing it.

Football pundit Gary Neville described FIFA as a “rogue organisation,” adding “at this tournament we've seen them at their worst.

“I don’t think they’re a great face for world football. What’s an armband going to do to harm FIFA?”

FIFA officials threatened anyone wearing the armband with a booking and further ‘disciplinary action.

Listen to the News Agents podcast on Global Player

FIFA said it is an inclusive organisation that wants to put football to the benefit of society by supporting good and legitimate causes, but within the ‘framework’ of the competition’s regulations.

Sir Tony also discussed China's Zero Covid policy.

He described Zero Covid as "a policy that is completely irrational because the damage that you do in trying to enforce a zero covid policy is actually greater than that damage that you’d do if you took a more measured policy."

He said China's president Xi Jinping has "nailed those colours to that mast" and "he now can’t un-nail them."

More protests have erupted across China in recent days in the latest reaction to the country’s Zero Covid policy.

China is facing its largest anti-government demonstrations since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, with protests erupting in at least seven cities over the country's strict Covid rules. 

The latest wave of protests is believed to have erupted after a fire broke out in the city of Urumqi in which 10 people died. Residents claimed lockdown rules hindered their rescue and escape.

During the protests, a BBC journalist was arrested and beaten, with Chinese officials going on to claim he was detained ‘for his own good’ in case he caught Covid-19 from the crowd.

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