After criticizing Qatar, the Federal Sports Minister says Australia should prepare for an exam before the 2023 World Cup

The Australian government has used a FIFA World Cup visit to Qatar to hold talks with Qatari government officials, whom it describes as “honest, humble and open”.

Sport Minister Anika Wells met with Qatar’s Deputy Foreign Minister Lolwah Rashid Al-Khater ahead of the Socceroos’ opening game against France on Tuesday local time.

“Beyond supporting the Socceroos, we need to show up and get back to the table,” Ms Wells told ABC.

“It’s important to show up and have the discussions.”

Officials in Qatar are notoriously frustrated by what they describe as a “relentless” campaign of negativity surrounding the hosting of the world’s biggest single sporting event.

Headlines about the deaths of migrant workers and other human rights conditions persist despite many fundamental changes in the country, which is now recognized as a regional standard by organizations such as the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

Ms Wells said Qatar had learned lessons for Australia as it prepared to host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the Brisbane 2032 Olympic Games.

“First, in terms of the global spotlight, we’re an open and free and inclusive democracy, and we can always do better,” she said.

“In the same vein, we raised our voice to recognize Qatar’s progress, but as we want to see further progress we can expect Australia to be in the global spotlight next year.

“On a practical level, there are certainly some things we are learning in terms of logistics. I mean Brisbane 2032…[it] is similar in size to Doha.

“I had a really helpful discussion with some Qataris, [including] the Assistant Secretary of State, on a number of things, including what lessons they learned here too late that we can try to learn sooner, in terms of logistics… and inclusivity.

“As a representative of the Australian Government, I am here to bring our position to the table, which is that we recognize the very valuable progress that has been made over the past 12 years [surrounding workers’ rights in Qatar] And we want to see that continue.”

Qatar’s changed position

Qatar’s labor reforms have been enshrined in law, with a compensation fund that has paid out more than $320 million ($481.6 million) over the past three years to workers who failed to receive their payment on time — or occasionally not at all Challenges remain in enforcing some conditions.

Ms Wells (second from left) met with Qatar Deputy Foreign Minister Lolwah Rashid Al-Khater.(delivered)

“Australians may or may not know that we have actually contributed to this because Fair Work Australia and Safe Work Australia have both contributed to the work of raising minimum wages and getting better data on site safety,” Ms Wells said.

“I said we recognize this great work and stand ready to help to ensure the work continues.”

Qatar is also facing the challenges of a society in transition. Of the almost 3 million people living in Qatar, most are foreigners, with Qataris numbering around 300,000.

Locals are young, educated and wealthy, unlike their grandparents who lived before gas and oil wealth transformed their lives.

Qatar only became an independent state 50 years ago, having previously been classified as a British protectorate.

Ms Al-Khater represents the changing face of the conservative Islamic country, which was appointed its first female spokesperson for foreign affairs in 2017 and moved to her current position two years later.

“She was really honest. We had an honest, humble and frank discussion and she was very welcoming and acknowledged that there is still work to be done,” said Ms. Wells.

“She hailed our support and our willingness to support this progress.”

Australia is in the human rights spotlight

Ms Wells said the Australian government is prepared to share a similar spotlight on Australia’s human rights record as it prepares for its own FIFA World Cup and numerous international events planned for the sport’s upcoming green-and-gold decade.

Australia has the world’s worst incarceration rate of Indigenous people in July, at 2,315 people per 100,000 Indigenous adults detained in July, and the country’s treatment of asylum-seekers has also been questioned by human rights groups.

“I hope the Australians will start thinking about it now with the World Cup here because that’s going to come to us next year,” said Ms Wells.

“Certainly we as the Australian government are ready to receive everyone and be scrutinized because as an open, free and inclusive democracy you must welcome scrutiny as well.

“We must all be willing to move forward, and we must all acknowledge that we can do better.”

The minister acknowledged that diplomatic relations are a juggling of non-negotiable demands and the occasional backsliding to acknowledge that nations have their own history, their own cultural background and their own views on what is best for their communities.

“I know it’s something that people are grappling with … it’s been a heated discussion for months, if not years,” she said.

“My husband and I are constantly sending each other articles and podcasts about the complexities of coming to Qatar, what that means and how people from different camps would take it, but ultimately I think we believe in open dialogue and we do believe in this discussion and sunlight is the best disinfectant.

“So let’s have the discussion.”

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