Australian government commends Qatar on World Cup

Australia’s sport minister will join the Socceroos in speaking up over human rights abuses in Qatar when she travels to the World Cup this week.

Anika Wells will meet Graham Arnold’s squad and front a media conference in Doha on Wednesday, the day after Australia open their tournament against reigning champions France.

Speaking to AAP in Auckland alongside the Women’s World Cup draw last month, Ms Wells said she would use her visit to hold talks on draconian homosexuality laws.

“I’ll be going to Qatar because it’s important that we participate in these discussions. We can’t be on the sidelines if you want to see change. You have to be in the room,” she said.

“There is work to be done in Qatar.”

Last month, several Socceroos, the players union and the governing body went public with their concerns over workers’ rights and LGBT laws in the Arab nation.

Australia’s outspokenness has not been well received by FIFA.

On Saturday, FIFA president Gianni Infantino delivered an hour-long rant at a press conference where he declared western nations were hypocritical to make moral judgments.

Infantino has assured the tournament will be safe for LGBT fans, despite homosexuality being punishable by jail or death in Qatar.

Gay Australian fans have turned their nose up at that pledge.

LGBT club Sydney Rangers president Chris Hicks said he wasn’t aware of any queer fans making the trip.

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“Following so hot on the heels of staging a tournament in Russia, our members who had travelled in the past they’re just saying no, enough’s enough,” he told AAP.

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“We’re not going to support this. We’re not going to go to that country and spend our money in a place where it’s not okay to be ourselves.”

Many LGBT fans are instead choosing to wait a year for their World Cup fix, when Australia and New Zealand host the women’s tournament in 2023.

Wells said she wanted visiting fans “to be able to participate in the beautiful game in a way that is safe and inclusive”.

New Zealand sport minister and deputy PM Grant Robertson, who is gay, is not heading to Qatar despite being next year’s hosts.

He said the 2023 tournament would be “truly inclusive”, urging LGBT fans to plan their travel.

“I’d make a pitch to all fans … we welcome everybody to New Zealand and Australia, no doubt for what will be a tremendous time,” he said.

The Albanese Government’s engagement with Qatar stands in contrast to the Turnbull government’s approach to the Russia-hosted 2018 tournament, when Australia engaged in a diplomatic boycott amid heightened tension.

Similar concerns were held for LGBT rights in Russia, and the tournament took place after the shooting down of MH17, which killed 38 Australians, and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman said the Australian government “commended Qatar on being the first Arab nation to host the World Cup.”

“Hosting the event has enabled Qatar to advance reforms in human rights, particularly labour, which we hope will continue beyond Qatar’s World Cup host year,” the statement read.

Wells will be joined by the opposition’s sports spokeswoman Anne Ruston, which the minister said showed the significance of the event.

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