MP: Collective effort needed to ensure Qatar progress continues after World Cup

David Beckham, MPs and other dignitaries travelling to Qatar for the World Cup should recognise reforms made by the hosts but “press for them to be continued”, according to a former cabinet minister.

Conservative MP Alun Cairns said there needs to be a “collective effort” to push for “progress” on workers’ rights and human rights to last beyond the four-week tournament.

Former Welsh secretary Mr Cairns chairs the all-parliamentary group on Qatar, which brings together MPs and peers to “foster good relations between the UK and Qatar”.

He said during talks with senior Qatari officials they sought assurances over the treatment of LGBTQ+ fans and how “celebrating and commiserating” supporters would be managed by the authorities.

Qatar’s ministry of foreign affairs has paid for members of the group to visit the country, including to meet ministers and officials.

Records show Mr Cairns registered donations valued at £9,323 for two trips this year.

Former England captain Beckham has been criticised for accepting a reported £10 million to be an ambassador for Qatar amid concerns over the Gulf state’s human rights record.

The treatment of migrants workers and LGBTQ+ people has been the subject of international media focus ahead of the tournament.

Mr Cairns, asked about concerns over the tournament being used by Qatar for “sportswashing” to improve its reputation, told the PA news agency: “I think we’ve got to accept the World Cup already has had a major difference in terms of changing laws in Qatar.

“The ambassador himself has said there is more to do, but that has got to be seen as a positive thing.

“Now, if the influence of people like David Beckham, like parliamentarians who are visiting, like ministers who are travelling press the case, recognise the reforms that have taken place but also press for them to be continued, as well as encouraging other nations in the region to follow suit, then that will be a positive step.

“It’s not up to people like the ambassadors like David Beckham alone, it’s up to the collective effort, but I do think recognition of the changes that have been made is really important, and also working from clear facts because there are so many numbers thrown around in relation to deaths in construction of the stadia, in deaths in the workplace in general, in terms of injuries.

“We’ve got to work from authoritative data and the authoritative data that I can see is the UN-sponsored International Labour Organisation that has completely dismissed some of the numbers that have been presented in some media reports.”

A Guardian investigation said more than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died in Qatar since 2010.

Alun Cairns
Alun Cairns said the World Cup has already made a difference in Qatar (Victoria Jones/PA)

The International Trade Union Confederation puts the figure at around 7,000 by the time the tournament starts while Amnesty International reports more than 15,021 foreigners of all ages and occupations died in Qatar between 2010 and 2019.

The Qatari authorities claim there have been only three work-related and 34 non work-related deaths in that time.

An analysis by the International Labour Organisation, a United Nations agency, showed 50 workers lost their lives in 2020 and more than 500 were severely injured, with 37,600 suffering mild to moderate injuries.

It noted most were suffered by migrant workers from Bangladesh, India and Nepal, mainly in the construction industry, with falls from height and road traffic accidents the top causes of severe injuries – followed by falling objects on worksites.

On his hopes for the tournament, Mr Cairns said: “My hope is it’s a great success, that it helps bring cultures together to understand what is important to them and what is the cultural norm, and we influence each other in positive ways.

“I also hope that there will be a legacy in terms of continuing to develop what we consider to be normal employment, human rights practices, and that will equally be transferred to other nations in the region that have yet to make similar progress.”

Asked about the impact of Wales fans at the tournament, Mr Cairns said: “I saw a great quote on Twitter last week which made me smile – the great thing about Wales and England being in the same group is that at least people will understand Wales is not England, globally.

“Because how many times do I, as a passionate Welshman, go overseas and have to explain where Wales is?”

He described football as a “great communicator” and said the World Cup offers Wales and the other 31 nations a chance for them to “stand out in the crowd”.

On his prediction for the tournament, Mr Cairns joked: “I am quite relaxed as to whether it’s a Wales-England final where Wales will win 4-3.”