Gary Neville took aim at Prince William and defended his own business and commercial interests in the Middle East, as he admitted that he ‘doesn’t feel conflicted’ working for Qatari-funded broadcaster BeIN Sports.
The former England and Manchester United player has come in for criticism after taking up a role as pundit for BeIN Sports at the World Cup while speaking out over Qatar’s human rights record.
But, speaking to ITV on Monday, Neville referenced Prince William, who cited a busy diary for his decision not to travel to Doha, while King Charles was probed over accepting large cash donations from a former Qatari prime minister.
Neville said: “If Prince William doesn’t want to come to this tournament, but his father takes charitable donations, that’s fine. If the MPs don’t want to come over here but are happy to take money from them in our political parties, that’s fine with me.
“All I see is football and ex-footballers who seem to be coming under criticism. From my point of view I have to say, I think that football stands up.”
Neville was referring to a Sunday Times investigation into King Charles and his acceptance of cash totalling £2.6 million from Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, the former prime minister of Qatar, between 2011 and 2015.
A charity watchdog group said in July that it wouldn’t pursue a probe into one of Charles’ charities after money was deposited into one of his charitable funds.
Meanwhile, Neville also launched a robust defence of his ‘long standing’ links in the region. He said: “I don’t feel conflicted. I’ve been coming over to the Middle East for 20 years and to south-east Asia. I’ve had business and commercial relationships with these parts for a long, long time.
“The fact that FIFA have awarded a World Cup to Qatar, in the last few weeks that has come under huge scrutiny. I accept that position, I’m there to be shot at and people have criticised me heavily.
“I detest worker’s rights abuses, I detest the fact that people aren’t being paid enough money, that people are working in poor conditions and the idea of people don’t have good accommodation, the fact that women’s rights aren’t adhered to, or human rights abuses.
“Those relationships are long standing in our country in the UK. We buy most of our energy from the Middle East, they own our banks, the royal family have relationships with the Middle East both sporting and charitable. Our government, our political parties have relationships with the Middle East, they own Heathrow Airport and the London stock exchange.”
Neville added that it was his sport and its major global events which cast a light on the controversies which have dogged the build-up to the Qatar World Cup, while admitting that Arab countries had every right to host World Cups and major sporting competitions.
He said: “The fact is that it’s football and football tournaments that has brought scrutiny on the challenges that exist in this part of the world and the way in which these things happen. From my point of view, I’m happy to front that up.
“My point always is, should there be a World Cup in all parts of the world? Should there be a World Cup in the Middle East? Should there be a World Cup in Arab countries? There absolutely should be. If we are going to do that, then we are going to come across some of these issues that exist that we don’t agree with them.
"Can we not enjoy a sporting tournament and challenge the system, but also bring football to different parts of the world?”
Watch: Why the Qatar World Cup is mired in controversy