Tony Blair in New York City in November.
Amnesty International have criticised Tony Blair after he claimed protests over the human rights record of World Cup hosts Qatar are “in danger of going over the top”.
The former prime minister said it was “not sensible of us to disrespect” the Middle East country, despite their poor record on LGTBQ rights.
He said Qatar “invest a huge amount of money in this country” and pointed out that homosexuality was still illegal in England when it hosted the World Cup in 1966.
Labour leader Keir Starmer last week said world football governing body Fifa had brought “shame” on itself for siding with Qatari authorities and against LGBTQ people.
That came after several European countries, including England, were forced to ditch plans for their captains to wear rainbow armbands amid concerns they would insult their hosts.
However, sports minister Stuart Andrew, who is gay, today said he would wear the ‘One Love’ armband while attending tomorrow night’s game between England and Wales.
He said it was “important” that he show support for the community.
“I think it’s been really unfair on the England and Wales team that at the eleventh hour they were stopped by Fifa from doing it,” he said.
Speaking to the News Agents podcast, Blair said: “You can feel strongly about gay rights, and indeed, you know, my government introduced a huge amount of legislation on it and I’m a total supporter of it.
“But I think, it’s not sensible of us to disrespect Qatar. This is their biggest event that they’ve held, it’s a huge, not just a sporting event for the country, but it’s a huge event for the country.
“They are allies of ours, they do invest a huge amount of money in this country. And, you know, I think you can make the point that you hope, as I believe will happen, by the way, across the Middle East, as you know, one of the things I can see now is there is a kind of social revolution going on across the Middle East right now.
“And I think it will, in the end, change the role of women that will change and on things like gay rights, the Middle East is opening up today in the Gulf.”
The former PM added: “I think we’re in danger of going over the top on this. Remember the last time we held the World Cup here in England, at that time in 1966, being homosexual was still illegal.”
But Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, said: “It isn’t remotely disrespectful to say that no one should suffer discrimination or the threat of a seven-year jail sentence simply on the basis of their sexuality, and the Qatari authorities can very easily put a stop to this criticism by abolishing these outrageous laws.
“Qatar’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws are absolutely indefensible and there was never any conceivable way that Qatar would be able to host the World Cup without this being pointed out time and time again.
“Instead of harking back to 1966 and the completely different world of 56 years ago, Tony Blair should be standing up for present-day LGBTQ+ Qataris who are being denied their freedom and their basic rights.”