World Cup in Qatar splits coalition: ‘Human rights are important…

The government’s delegation to the World Cup in Qatar, which starts in a month, is causing fierce discussion in the coalition. While the VVD prefers to send the king, Prime Minister Rutte or a minister to the Gulf state, D66 and CU throw their ass at the manger. “Football is great, but human rights are more important,” says CU leader Gert-Jan Segers.

Behind the scenes in The Hague, there has been haggling for weeks about who should be sent to Qatar on behalf of the government. The issue is politically very sensitive because last year the House of Representatives passed a motion not to send a government delegation to Qatar. The reason: many thousands of workers were exploited and killed in the construction of the football stadiums.

The SP proposal was adopted in February 2021, shortly before the elections to the House of Representatives. Current coalition partners D66 and CU also voted in favour. “A line must be drawn,” said D66 party leader Sigrid Kaag during an election debate. Her party still supports a boycott. D66 MP Sjoerd Sjoerdsma recently called the adopted proposal ‘as hard as rock’.

Liquid natural gas

But VVD Prime Minister Mark Rutte and CDA Minister Wopke Hoekstra (Foreign Affairs) think differently. They fear countermeasures from Qatar if the Netherlands do not send a high delegation to the World Cup, according to Hague sources. The war in Ukraine has made the Netherlands more dependent on Qatar: the country supplies large quantities of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to make up for the lack of Russian gas.

Relations with Qatar have strengthened in recent years. “They have helped us enormously,” says a source from The Hague. It happened, for example, during the evacuation from Afghanistan: planes full of Dutch and others were able to escape from the Taliban via the Qatari capital Doha last year.

“I think we should try to avoid organizing large events in questionable countries,” says VVD member of parliament Rudmer Heerema. “But our influence in this kind of election is limited. Now that the election has been made for Qatar, I think we should go there with a delegation to make our voice heard. If we are not there, they will not miss us. If we are there, we can at least tell you how we think about certain things.”

‘Need Qatar’

Prime Minister Rutte said in the chamber last week that he ‘will come up with a position on the presence of the Dutch government as soon as possible’. The cabinet can discuss it on Friday in the Council of Ministers. “The Netherlands would be alone in a boycott, we need Qatar,” Rutte said last week.

No EU country has yet said it will boycott the World Cup. There are fears in The Hague that the Netherlands will isolate itself by not sending anyone on behalf of the government. It recalls the oil crisis of 1973, when the Netherlands was one of the few Western countries to fully side with Israel in the Yom Kippur War. As punishment, the Arab countries decided to close the oil tap to the Netherlands. This led to car-free Sundays. Gasoline was also on the receipt.

‘Bribed World Cup’

The question is whether such countermeasures are realistic. What is certain is that the government would prefer not to offend Qatar. Nevertheless, CU leader Segers believes that financial interest should not come first. “Everything that is wrong in the world of football comes together in this World Cup,” he says. “It is a bribed World Cup, the price thousands of migrant workers have paid for it is far too high and despite all the deaths the following applies: the show must go on. We should not reward this injustice with a government delegation. I hope that the government will refrain from participating in a party that will never be a real party.”

Meanwhile, politics are also grappling with the World Cup at the local level. For example, the Amsterdam D66 faction wants information about human rights violations to be shown on public screens during World Cup matches. Several French and Belgian cities go much further: They have totally banned TV screens and fan zones on the street.

Read also: Qatar World Cup prices scare Orange fans: ‘Consumers won’t pay for that’

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