Qatar bid for United: the human rights issues explained

Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani’s bid to buy Manchester United outright has put human rights activists on high alert.

The bid is one of two publicly announced offers for the club, the other being that of petrochemical giant INEOS, headed by British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe.

With the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QSI, already owning Paris Saint Germain, Sheikh Jassim’s bid claims to be completely independent of that and not a bid from Qatar itself.

If the bid is successful, Uefa will have to make a decision as to whether it is satisfied that the ownership of the two clubs is distinct.

Since the World Cup, Qatar has been at the centre of controversies and criticism about its human rights record, including the treatment of migrant workers in the construction project for the event, its outlawing of LGBTQ+ lifestyles and its treatment of women.

Rainbow Devils, a group representing LGBTQ+ United fans, have issued a statement on social media saying:

“Rainbow Devils believe any bidder seeking to buy Manchester United must commit to making football a sport for everyone, including LGBTQ+ supporters, players and staff.

“We therefore have deep concern over some of the bids that are being made. We are watching the current process closely with this in mind.”

While not mentioning Qatar specifically, many assume that it is included in the group’s concerns. But what are those concerns?

Some of Qatar’s laws on non-heterosexual relations include:

– Male homosexual sex punishable by a prison sentence of 1-3 years;
– Capital punishment for Muslims engaging in same sex relations; there is no record of this being enforced by the state but there may be evidence of local vigilante incidents;
– Cohabitation of same sex partners illegal;
– Cross dressing illegal;
– Transitioning illegal and forcibly detransitioned in prison, for example, having breasts removed.
(source: Wikipedia)

In terms of women’s rights:
– “Under the guardianship system, women require the permission of their male guardian, usually their husband, father, brother, grandfather or uncle, to marry, study abroad on government scholarships, work in many government jobs, travel abroad (if under the age of 25), and access reproductive healthcare.”
– “Family laws continued to discriminate against women by making it difficult for them to divorce. Divorced women remained unable to act as their children’s guardian.”
(source: Amnesty International)

The scandal around the migrant workers for the World Cup revolves around alleged inhumane working and living conditions. At least 6,500 workers died during the construction project with only four being announced as World Cup work-related according to Qatari authorities. In terms of Indian migrants for example, 2,711 died. 6 were reported as suicide and 10 as road accidents, with 80% being attributed to natural causes, which makes little sense.

Similar figures were released for workers from other countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The Guardian reports that the most likely cause of the deaths attributed to “natural causes” is exposure to the extreme Qatari heat, but there are also reports of incidents of accidental electrocution.

However, Qatari authorities claim that “the number of deaths – which it does not dispute – is proportionate to the size of the migrant workforce and that the figures include white-collar workers who have died naturally after living in Qatar for many years,” The Guardian explains.

“It also says that only 20 per cent of expatriates from the countries in question are employed in construction, and that work-related deaths in this sector accounted for fewer than 10 percent of fatalities within this group.

“’The mortality rate among these communities is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population. However, every lost life is a tragedy, and no effort is spared in trying to prevent every death in our country’”.

Whatever conclusion is drawn about all of the above, another issue is whether Sheikh Jassim as a would-be private investor in Manchester United is guilty of, or responsible for, any of these alleged abuses, or indeed of the acts of his father, the former prime minister of Qatar:

“He is the son of the former Qatari prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani,” The Athletic explains.

“In June 2021, the High Court of Justice in London issued a claim that alleged Sheikh Hamad’s private office was at the heart of laundering money for terrorism through overpriced construction contracts, the purchase of property at inflated prices and overpayments to Syrian migrant workers.”

Of course, if you see Sheikh Jassim’s private ownership as a cover story for the Qatari state to dodge the PSG conflict of interests issue, then all of the above questions come into play. If you do not, then the issue is whether one man can be held accountable for the policies and actions of his government.

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