Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib is to travel to Qatar to watch the Red Devils take part in the first round of the World Cup, despite growing international pressure for officials to boycott the event due to the country’s poor human rights record, RTBF reports.
Lahbib says that her trip to the Arab nation is part of an “offensive” diplomatic agenda, where she will promote the defence of human rights, women, and sexual minorities. “I will go there with a loud and clear message about working conditions and human rights, especially women’s and LGBTIQ rights,” the minister said.
Despite this apparent criticism of Qatar’s treatment of minorities and their human rights record, the minister has previously resisted calls for a boycott, stating that nations should “support Qatar’s efforts to improve these working conditions.”
Lahbib believes that a boycott of the event would be “totally ineffective and purely ideological.”
Mounting calls for boycott
According to FPS Economy, since 2007, Qatar has been the main importer of liquified natural gas (LNG) to Belgium. As the burden of the energy crisis grows, the minister will undoubtedly be thinking beyond the human rights concerns.
“It is not by breaking the dialogue that we will move forward. We must go to Qatar and continue the dialogue, support the efforts they are making and ask them to go further with reforms. Not going there isolates us on the international stage, because all other qualifying countries, including our European neighbours, will send high-level representatives,” Lahbib said.
Elsewhere in Europe, public figures and government officials are increasingly under pressure from human rights groups and public opinion to not attend the tournament.
In the United Kingdom, around 60% of Brits are opposed to Qatar hosting the competition. UK sporting legend and commentator Gary Neville has received backlash over his plans to travel Qatar to commentate the games, with critics stating that it is impossible to play a part in the competition and be vocally critical of the organisers.
Belgium will send a “limited” official delegation to the event. Several Belgian municipalities are also set to boycott the event, not setting up fan zones. Some bars have also joined this initiative, refusing to broadcast the event.
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A poll commissioned by Amnesty International of 17,000 people, including over 1,000 Belgians, revealed that 77% are in favour of FIFA compensating migrant workers who suffered during the construction of host venues. Qatar has rejected these calls. According to the Guardian newspaper, more than 6,500 people from five Asian countries (India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka) died on the construction of the venues.
Many Belgian fans have already stated that they will not attend the upcoming World Cup. Le Soir reports that just 886 Belgians have purchased tickets. Some influencers are reportedly being given free tickets, in exchange for posting positive comments about Qatar on social media.
Lahbib is set to visit one of the Red Devil’s first planned matches of the competition. If Belgium progresses to the semi-finals, it is not yet decided if higher level officials, such as Prime Minister Alexander De Croo or King Phillipe, will attend.
The World Cup officially kicks off on 20 November, with Belgium’ first match against Canada scheduled for 23 November at 20:00.