FIFA World Cup 2022: Canada’s Sajjan to attend tournament in Qatar

Click to play video: 'FIFA World Cup: LGBTQ+ treatment raises concern over human rights records'
FIFA World Cup: LGBTQ+ treatment raises concern over human rights records
FIFA 2022 host country Qatar has a poor human rights record — notably over the treatment of migrant workers leading up to the tournament. Yet today, FIFA's president tried to deflect criticism by saying he understands discrimination — equating it to how he was bullied in school for his freckles and attacking what he calls “hypocrisy” from western nations. Redmond Shannon has more – Nov 19, 2022

International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan will travel to Qatar this week for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Global Affairs Canada said Sunday.

Sajjan will be in Qatar from Nov. 21 to 23, and will be accompanied by Stephen Ellis, Member of Parliament for Cumberland-Colchester, the statement said.

In addition to cheering on the Canadian men’s national soccer team in Qatar, Sajjan will also participate in “a trilateral sports diplomacy event” with U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard, the agency added.

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The news comes after Heritage Canada told Global News last month that Ottawa has “no plan” yet to send a dignitary to the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

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“The Government of Canada is proud of the Canadian men’s national soccer team qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup,” a spokesperson with Heritage Canada told Global News on Oct. 21.

“Their qualification is a historic event in itself and all Canadians look forward to cheering them on in November. So far, no plan has been made for a dignitary to attend the event.”

Click to play video: 'Government diplomats must ‘speak out on these abuses’ if attending 2022 FIFA World Cup: Human Rights Watch'
Government diplomats must ‘speak out on these abuses’ if attending 2022 FIFA World Cup: Human Rights Watch

While in Qatar, Sajjan is also set to meet with Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Qatar’s deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, to discuss humanitarian assistance and international development.

In a statement sent to Global News Sunday evening, a spokesperson for Minister Sajjan said that “promotion of human rights is an integral part of Canada’s foreign policy” and “we will continue to engage Qatar bilaterally on key Canadian priorities, including human rights.”

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There have been allegations against Qatar’s discrimination of women and LGBTQ+ people in its laws and practices, and the country’s mistreatment of migrant workers, according to Amnesty International’s 2021/2022 report.

On Sunday, Amnesty International lambasted Canada Soccer for shying away from addressing the “serious, widespread harms experienced by those who made this World Cup a reality” in Qatar.

In an open letter to Canada Soccer, Amnesty congratulated the Canadian governing body “for fielding a squad whose thrilling play and rich cultural diversity has already ignited the imagination of the next generation of Canadian sports leaders.”

But Ketty Nivyabandi, Amnesty International Canada’s general secretary, urged Canada Soccer to take action off the field.

“Your organization’s deafening silence on fair compensation for affected migrant workers and their families is a failure of leadership and could leave a lasting stain on Canada’s re-emergence on soccer’s biggest stage,” wrote Nivyabandi.

Amnesty said it has documented that thousands of workers, predominantly from South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa, “have been subjected to labour abuses, abysmally low pay, and other exploitation.”

“Despite recent changes to Qatari labour law, migrant workers still experience delayed or unpaid wages, denial of rest days, unsafe working conditions, barriers to changing jobs, and limited access to justice. On top of the country’s labour record, homosexuality is outlawed in Qatar — for example, sexual acts between men are punishable by a prison sentence of up to seven years — and Qatari law continues to treat women as second-class citizens in employment, education, and health care.

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Canadian Soccer issued a statement on Oct. 28 regarding workers’ rights and inclusivity in Qatar, noting that FIFA itself has acknowledged the alleged human rights violations in Qatar.

The organization added that it has been “actively engaged on these issues” since Canada’s Men’s National Team qualified for the 2022 World Cup.

“We met with the Canadian Embassy in Doha, Qatar in April, July and in September of this year, focusing on cultural awareness, local education, and event preparation,” it reads. “At every meeting, discussions also included the latest updates on human rights and matters of inclusivity in Qatar.”

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Michael Page, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch, told Global News in an interview in October that if government diplomats do attend the World Cup, they should speak out on the reported abuses.

“We want them to take a positive stand on human rights across the spectrum,” he said.

“If they don’t do that — that will be a disappointment.”

In a travel advisory to Canadians visiting Qatar for the World Cup, the federal government noted that Qatar has many laws that differ from those in Canada, adding that not only is revealing clothing “considered inappropriate” in the country, but Qatar also “criminalizes sexual acts and relationships between persons of the same sex or unmarried people.”

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The government also advises Canadians to avoid “religious proselytizing, criticism of the government of Qatar or the religion of Islam,” because doing so could lead to being arrested and criminal prosecution.

— With files from Global News’ Aaron D’Andrea and The Canadian Press

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