Vancouver’s new mayor is facing criticism over plans to head to Qatar this month for the 2022 World Cup.
Ken Sim says the soccer trip was booked well before he became mayor, and that it is being paid for with his own money.
The trip will see Sim miss his first police board meeting, and will put him on the world stage at a time when Qatar is facing allegations of human rights abuses including the mistreatment of workers and repression of LGBTQ2 people.
“I support justice and human rights, and I have very strong opinions on a whole host of issues, but at the end of the day those are personal feelings, and I am going to focus the issues at hand in the City of Vancouver and leave the geopolitical issues to federal politicians,” Sim told Global News.
“If I do that, then guess what, we would be having the same conversation if you go to states like Texas or Florida.”
The City of Vancouver will co-host a portion of the 2026 World Cup.
While the city is sending its own official delegation to Qatar, Sim said the trip will also give him an opportunity to see the event first hand as Vancouver gears up for its own hosting duties.
Sim added that he had been fully briefed on the upcoming Vancouver Police Board meeting.
“I am being very proactive, I did sit down with representatives of the police board this morning and I was sworn in,” he said.
“We’re getting the package and I will have all the information a board member will have and I will be able to see the video. I will be more prepared than most people, so UI have no concerns about it.”
The trip, however, has raised eyebrows from both political observers and rights advocates.
Former city councillor George Affleck said the mayor sends the wrong message by missing the police board meeting just as his new ABC government begins to move on its pledge to hire 100 new police officers and 100 new mental health nurses.
“The mayor should be here, he is the de facto chair of that board,” he said, adding that Sim should also be present to begin shepherding the city’s 2023 budget through council.
“They have a $1.6 billion budget they need to start working on and the mayor leads that along with the finance committee. Not to be here and to go on what is basically a vacation I don’t think is good optics, I don’t think it’s good for the mayor’s reputation. It’s unfortunate for him and I think he probably should make the right decision and not go.”
Simon Fraser University sociology professor Travers said Sim’s attendance at the World Cup also sends the wrong message given the major human rights concerns raised about the event.
They said the country relied heavily on migrant labour to build the venues, but that many of those workers haven’t been paid and there have been a large number of deaths reported among workers.
Qatar has also been widely criticized for its anti-LGBTQ2 laws, Travers added.
“It’s very concerning that any leader of a Canadian municipality or province … would show up in Qatar as if this is OK. It sends a really bad message,” they said.
“It’s just a failure to realize the symbolic weight he carries as an elected official. He may think he loves soccer, he’s spending his own money, he’s not representing the city officially — but once you become an elected representative, the decisions you make have a lot of significance.”
The 2022 World Cup kicks off on Sunday, Nov. 20. Canada is scheduled to play its first match against Belgium on Wednesday, Nov. 23.