World Cup

DEFENCE Qatar World Cup chief Hassan Al-Thawadi claims OneLove armband was a ‘divisive message’ from Western nations and calls for respect for the beliefs and values of Arab world

DEFENCE Qatar World Cup chief Hassan Al-Thawadi claims OneLove armband was a ‘divisive message’ from Western nations and calls for respect for the beliefs and values of Arab world

Qatar World Cup chief Hassan Al-Thawadi has accused nations behind the OneLove armband of sending a ‘divisive message’ – and said they should understand and respect the values of the Arab world.

England and Wales were among a number of European nations who planned for their captain to wear the anti-discrimination OneLove armband in Qatar, where same-sex relationships are illegal.

talkSPORT spoke with the man in charge of delivering the Qatar World Cup over the OneLove armband situation

Harry Kane was among national team captains set to wear the OneLove armband against Iran before FIFA intervened
However, they backtracked after FIFA threatened sporting sanctions against players who wore it, with an immediate yellow card a potential punishment, which caused widespread disappointment.

Germany players covered their mouths in a team photo before their 2-1 defeat to Japan in a message to world football’s governing body, while Manuel Neuer hid the FIFA armband he had been ordered to wear under his shirt.

Now, Al-Thawadi, Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy of the Qatar World Cup, has accused Western nations of failing to show respect and understanding for Middle Eastern culture.

“It’s a FIFA decision. I wasn’t part of that discussion,” he told talkSPORT in a wide-ranging exclusive interview.

“Their policy is they have their armbands representing inclusivity and a number of topics, sustainability, so on and so forth.

“I wasn’t nervous about it, but for me, if a team decided to do it throughout the entire season, that is one thing.

Germany took a stance against FIFA for not being able to wear the OneLove armband
“But if they are coming to make a point or a statement in Qatar, that is something I have an issue with.

“It goes back to the simple fact that this is a part of the world that has its own set of values. It is a part of the world, not Qatar, I’m talking about the Arab world.

“For teams to come and preach or make statements, that is fine, but what you’re essentially saying is you’re protesting an Islamic country hosting an event. So where does that end?

“Does that mean Islamic countries can never host events? There will be different values and different views coming in.

“So if you’re making a statement here in Qatar or specifically addressed to Qatar, and by extension the Islamic world, or course I take issue with that. It leaves a very divisive message.

“We’re saying everybody is welcome and we want people to experience it on the ground.”

TV pundit Alex Scott wore the OneLove armband before England’s game against Iran as she spoke from the side of the pitch
Al-Thawadi was pressed by talkSPORT host Jim White on reports of rainbow-coloured objects, such as bucket hats and watches, being confiscated by Qatari officials.

The World Cup chief doubled down on the host nation’s views towards the LGBTQ+ community and urged visiting fans to ‘understand’ it.

He added: “From day one, we have said everybody is welcome. We have also asked for people to come and respect our culture, our religion.

“It’s not a Qatari culture or Qatari religion, these values are regional. It’s for the Islamic world, the Arab world, the Middle East.

“We want everybody from every walk of life to come here and you’ve got people from every corner of the world engaging, educating themselves and having a good time.

“But when it comes to a topic like this, it is a complicated topic. This is something for us, or at least for this part of the world, that is a fundamental part of religious values.

Al-Thawadi gave a passionate defence of Middle Eastern culture on talkSPORT
“This is what we want. We want the world to see us, get to know us, understand us.

“We might not see eye-to-eye on everything, we might not agree on everything. There are some things we will not agree upon.

“But there is more than unites us, we have more common ground, and we need to find that common ground to find a way of saying, ‘Let us find a way of co-existing and moving forward’.

“That is where mutual respect is fundamental.”

Al-Thawadi insists the tournament is changing perceptions of Qatar despite ongoing bad press.

He added: “I think, unfortunately, a lot of people have consumed a lot of misinformation out there, without checking it – and they have formed opinions on it without looking at the facts or digging.

“Whether we can change that, I can’t comment on that, but if you talk to people out here – they are having the times of their lives and it is changing their perception, not only of Qatar, but of the Arab world and the Middle East.

Al-Thawadi is one of the most important men connected to the event
“People over here are embracing and welcoming people from different parts of the world and there is a cultural exchange on an unprecedented level.”

He added: “The misinformation feeds into a stereotype of the Middle East and Qatar. For a lot of people, it’s easy to believe the negative about our part of the world and us.

“A simple example: ‘There is no football culture’. You have been here, you have seen the Saudi fans, the Tunisian fans, you talk to any Qatari person over here and they are just as knowledgeable and passionate as any fan in the world.

“This is a region that is in love with football. It forms part of our daily lives. They follow some of the most remote leagues in the world. But people from the outside don’t know that we’re a footballing nation.”

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