Qatar has been “unfairly treated and scrutinised” in recent years, according to the chief executive of the 2022 World Cup.
Accusations of the treatment of migrant workers and a poor record of human rights have plagued the Gulf state since it was controversially awarded next winter’s finals back in 2010.
World Cup organisers insist there have been just three work-related deaths since the construction of the majority of the stadiums began.
Now, Nasser Al Khater, the chief of the organising committee, hit out at the widespread media coverage, insisting Qatar has been a “trailblazer” in the Middle East.
“Yes, Qatar has been unfairly treated and scrutinised for a number of years,” he said.
“There’s criticism, yes, there’s work that needs to be done. There is, however, a lot of progress but unfortunately that has not been captured in reports such as Amnesty, Human Rights Watch.
“I think Qatar in a lot of sense, if you take it into context and you take it into the context of the region and you take it into the context of the amount of achievements that have been done over the past seven, eight or nine years, it’s quite extraordinary.
“Now, unfortunately, people don’t like to report on that – people like to report on anything that’s negative. No one has ever gone out of their way to sit and look at it objectively to see what has this country achieved over the past seven, eight years.
“You take it into context of the region also, I think Qatar is a trailblazer right now with all the reform that it’s done, whether it’s on worker standards, accommodation standards, the introduction of minimum wage – Germany only introduced minimum wage four years ago, or five years ago, not more than that.”
On visiting the country, infrastructure around the grounds themselves are also still being completed, while building site entrances sit on most sides of the 80,000-seater jewel in the crown of the Qatar venues, the Losail Stadium, where signs warn against photography or video cameras.
Luxury high-rise hotels and even the expanded road networks were not completed in time for the somewhat hastily arranged Formula One debut this weekend – despite work seemingly going on at all hours.
“The work is not as close to completion as the authorities have people believe,” a worker at the site perimeter said.
“It will be ready but only because we are working so hard. We are doing our best.”
Using the track which has hosted MotoGP since 2004, the Losail International Circuit sits in the same region of Doha as the stadium that will stage the World Cup final on December 18, 2022.
Some 22km north of the centre of Qatar’s capital, the area will be unrecognisable from when the Gulf state was awarded the tournament almost 11 years ago.
“It is all artificial beauty,” a Pakistan-born taxi driver said as he also laughed as a few dots of rain hit the windscreen. “I’ve been here for three years and this is the first rain, you must have brought it from London with you.”
Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton called on fellow sportspeople to speak out about human rights issues as he arrived in the desert for the first time, ahead of a vital race in the fight to retain his crown.
But Al Khater believes those high-profile names are also misinformed, saying: “We understand that sports individuals and the sports world like to take certain positions on various topics.
“They’re influenced by the public perception of things, which is usually shaped by the media and no, we have no worry about it.
“Everyone’s free to express what it is that they want to express. Do we feel that it’s unjust? Yes. It takes a very narrow perspective on things. It takes a narrative that has been put out there without taking into context, various things.
“Nobody can stop anybody from taking a position publicly or privately if they wish but it is something that we will feel is not fair and honestly incorrect.”
Al Khater also said members of the LGBTQ+ community and same-sex couples would be free to visit Qatar for the World Cup unencumbered. Male homosexuality is punishable by a prison sentence and same-sex marriages not recognised by the government.
But, when asked if an educational programme needs to be put in place for locals, he stopped short of agreeing it would be required.
“Everybody is welcome to come to Qatar and have an enjoyable time at the World Cup,” he added.
“They can come and enjoy their time here without fear of any sort of repercussions, it makes no difference to people’s (sexual) orientation, religion, creed, race whatsoever.”