World Cup fallout over LGBT rights: Qatar reviews investments in London

Qatar has launched a review of its investment in London after the city’s transport authority this week banned advertisements from the Gulf state on buses, taxis and the British capital’s tube system.

Transport for London was motivated by concern about Qatar’s stance on LGBT rights and its treatment of migrant workers. And it has infuriated Doha, which has become increasingly angry at criticism of it as the host country for the soccer World Cup.

In 2019, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan asked TfL to “review how it handles advertising and sponsorship from countries that have anti-LGBT laws”. This led to the suspension of new ads from 11 countries including Qatar, Pakistan, Brunei and Saudi Arabia.

TfL admitted on Friday that “some” advertisements for Qatar had since been shown on the network. But it moved to an outright ban after an outcry this week, when European teams at the World Cup in Qatar were banned from wearing armbands in support of LGBT rights.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan at London Pride in 2019
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan at London Pride in 2019 © Mike Marsland / WireImage / Getty Images

On Friday, Qatar became the first team to be eliminated from the tournament after playing just two matches.

The person involved in the country review of London investments said the transport authority, which Khan heads, contacted Q22, the body overseeing the World Cup, and the Qatar Tourism Authority this week to inform them of the ban.

In response, Qatar was “reviewing its current and future investments” in London, and was “studying investment opportunities in other UK cities and home countries,” the person involved in the review said.

The person added that the London Transport Office ban “was interpreted as a message from the Mayor’s Office that Qatari businesses are not welcome in London.”

It is not clear what impact the review might have on Qatar’s investments in London. Over the past two decades, it has become one of the largest investors in London with its $450 billion sovereign wealth fund. The Qatar Investment Authority owns Harrods, a department store, the famous Shard building, and is a co-owner of Canary Wharf. The Gulf state also owns the Chelsea Barracks, Savoy and Grosvenor House hotels and a 20 percent stake in Heathrow Airport.

An England fan wearing a rainbow jersey sits in the stands before the start of the FIFA World Cup Group B match between England and Iran.
An England fan wearing a rainbow jersey sits in the stands before the start of the World Cup Group B soccer match between England and Iran © Abbie Parr / AP

In May, the gas-rich Gulf state pledged to invest 10 billion pounds over five years in the United Kingdom through the Qatar Investment Authority, including in the technology, healthcare, infrastructure and clean energy sectors.

A spokesman for Khan said the Labor mayor was not involved in day-to-day decisions related to advertising on the city’s transport network. A spokesperson for TfL said it had provided “advertising and brand partners with further guidance” on acceptable advertising during the World Cup.

The Qatari media office and the Qatar Investment Authority declined to comment. But the person involved in the Qatar report said Doha viewed the NFL ban as “another blatant example of the double standard and virtue that points to cheap political points being scored around the World Cup in Qatar.”

“TfL accepts advertising from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and has many business interests in China, but there is no indication that these agreements will be withdrawn,” the source said.

Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani with FIFA President Gianni Infantino
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani with FIFA President Gianni Infantino © Karim Jaffar/AFP/Getty Images

They added that the dispute would not affect Qatar’s relationship with the Conservative-led UK government.

The United Kingdom is seeking to secure long-term gas supplies from Qatar in the wake of the energy crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Qatar, the world’s largest exporter of LNG, is already an important supplier of energy to the UK.

Qatar has launched a tourism ad campaign in the UK in the run-up to the World Cup, with a focus on London, as it seeks to use the tournament to promote the nation.

The German national team covered their mouths before the match against Japan
The German national team covered their mouths before the match against Japan © Ricardo Mazalan / AP

Qatar’s leaders have become increasingly open in their response to criticism, particularly from European politicians and football federations, as it has intensified in the run-up to the tournament.

Last month, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani revolted against what he described as an “unprecedented campaign” against Qatar.

He said it included “slanders and double standards that were so vicious that they unfortunately led many people to question the real reasons and motives behind the crackdown”.

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