SFA chief defiant over relationship with Qatar

THE Scottish Football Association has not ruled out further links with Qatar despite the criticism levelled at them over last week’s friendly international at Easter Road.
Protestors targeted Scotland's match against Qatar at Easter Road on Friday. Picture: Jane BarlowProtestors targeted Scotland's match against Qatar at Easter Road on Friday. Picture: Jane Barlow
Protestors targeted Scotland's match against Qatar at Easter Road on Friday. Picture: Jane Barlow

The match against the Gulf state was boycotted by some Scotland supporters in protest at the alleged abuse of migrant workers’ rights in the construction of stadiums for the 2022 World Cup finals.

The bid process that resulted in Qatar being awarded the tournament is now under scrutiny as part of the wider corruption scandal which has engulfed football’s world governing body Fifa in recent weeks.

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But SFA chief executive Stewart Regan has robustly defended his organisation’s relationship with their Qatari counterparts.

Regan led a delegation to Qatar in February to explore the possibility of longer-term links between the two associations which he insists are still on the table.

“Those discussions are still ongoing,” said Regan. “They may well lead to something, they may not. We’ve had no further dialogue with the Qatar FA since we visited in February. We talked about providing them with practical event management experience, having staged one of the most successful sporting events ever at Hampden last summer. It was called the best-ever Commonwealth Games.

“We are also recognised around the world as one of the best nations in terms of coach education. We provided an opportunity for them [Qatar] to participate in that. We also talked about referee development and in terms of how we can get closer to Qatar through their under-15 Aspire youth tournament. We discussed how we might work closely with them in the future. At the moment, there have been no further developments on that partnership, other than we entered into a sponsorship agreement with Qatar Airways for the match at Easter Road.

“That match was a one-off. There was never any suggestion from us it was going to be anything other than a one-off.

“Qatar Airways are one of the leading global airline brands in the world. They were on the shirt of Barcelona who lifted the Champions League on Saturday and I didn’t hear much moral indignation about that.

“We said we were taking the game for footballing reasons. It was convenient for us because Qatar were in the country, they were staying at St George’s Park, they were already playing Northern Ireland.

“We’ve discussed the matter with the Scottish Government. We’ve listened to a lot of the information in the media – much of which has been misleading about the deaths that migrants have experienced as a result of working on World Cup projects.

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“We’ve raised it directly with the Qatar FA in terms of concerns with regard to human rights. It’s not something we condone.

“To be fair, they’ve recognised the challenges. They operate the kafala system of sponsorship for migrant workers, as does the UAE, as does Kuwait, as do a lot of countries in the Middle East.

“They’re evolving. They’re a developing nation and they recognise that they’ve got to make progress. They’ve stated publicly that they believe the kafala system will be outlawed by December of this year.

“On that basis, Amnesty International advised us that this was a great opportunity to recognise that there are workers’ rights issues and flag them up. That’s what we’ve done.”

Regan also believes it would be premature to suggest the Scottish FA could find themselves embarrassed by their connections with Qatar if the 2022 World Cup is found to have been secured illegally.

“If anything was to subsequently evolve, if there is any evidence of wrong-doing, then we would be the first to recognise that any relationship we had at the time would have to be reconsidered,” added Regan.

“At the moment, there is an investigation and that’s all it is. Russia are also being investigated for their successful bid to host the 2018 World Cup and they will play this week in the European Championship under Uefa competition regulations and Fifa statutes.

“There is no suggestion that either the Russian FA or Qatari FA have done anything wrong at this stage. It would be wrong to jump to conclusions on that. If anything comes out further down the line, that’s the time to have those discussions. Fifa have had challenges for a number of years, long before I came to the Scottish FA – right back to the late ’90s, early 2000s.

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“We all recall the US Attorney General’s press conference where it was said that some of the problems are well over 20 years old.

“Fifa has what can only be described as an ugly reputation around the world. It needs to be rebuilt, we all know that, we’ve all said it.

“Now is the chance for that to happen, for it to be rebuilt in a positive way. That needs a new president. I’m pleased that Sepp Blatter has done the right thing and agreed to step down because in terms of reputation, the game is not in good shape – particularly when those kinds of things are being reported at the top of the game.”