Australian government continues talks over human rights with Qatar at World Cup

Australian government continues talks over human rights with Qatar at World Cup

The federal minister for sport, Anika Wells, says the Australian government has opted to engage with rather than snub Qatar over its controversy-plagued World Cup, as she continues a series of talks with counterparts in Doha.

Wells has been in the country since Sunday to support the Socceroos’ campaign and attend a series of meeting around diplomacy, commerce and sport – a contrasting approach to top EU officials and a number of other politicians boycotting the tournament.

“We’re a new government, we believe in open dialogue, and we believe that we need to show up to have it,” Wells said on Thursday. “So I’ve shown up to take Australia’s seat at the table again, and to have an open dialogue.

“And as you probably have seen tracking my year, I’ve had several meetings with Qatari ministers now, putting Australia’s position on the table.”

Wells spoke to media at the Socceroos’ training base in the Aspire Academy, seated next to Football Australia chief executive, James Johnson.

As Johnson stopped short of declaring unequivocal support for Fifa’s under-fire president, Gianni Infantino, who is running unopposed for re-election in March, Wells rejected the notion that sport and politics should be mutually exclusive.

“Sport is every bit as political as politics,” she said. “And the people that try to keep politics out of sport are the ones who currently have the power and seek to keep that power against others trying to take their place and know their voice, which is why I’m so strong on athletes’ rights.”

Wells last month praised the Socceroos for their video statement which outlined their concerns about the rights of migrant workers and LGBTQ+ people in Qatar, but on Thursday preached pragmatism as the most productive route to change.

She said the Qatari government was “keen to gauge where Australia is at” and described its leaders as “humble, honest, and constructive”.

“I back athletes’ right to have a voice,” she said. “Athletes are not just chess pieces on chess board, they are people with rights … there was no need for me to make clear to the Qatari government the Socceroos video, obviously that has been broadcast around the world.

“On behalf of the Australian government, we acknowledge the progress that has been made in 12 years. I believe, as a pragmatist, you have to acknowledge work as it goes. Progress doesn’t move in a straight line. We’ve got to acknowledge what’s been done, we’ve got to acknowledge what’s to do.

“We had a constructive, frank discussion about that, about what’s to come and Australia’s role in that.

“We could all do more to advance human rights and this global scrutiny will turn itself upon us July next year when Australia [and New Zealand] hosts the Women’s World Cup.”

Wells’s comments came after Socceroos midfielder, Jackson Irvine, expressed sympathy for European World Cup players threatened with sanctions for wearing the OneLove rainbow armbands but also questioned the messaging behind them.