German Sport Minister Anika Wells says the Australian government has chosen to work with Qatar over its controversy-ridden World Cup rather than snub it as it continues a series of talks with its counterparts in Doha.
Wells has been in the country since Sunday to support the Socceroos’ campaign and attend a series of meetings centered on diplomacy, trade and sport – a contrasting approach to senior EU officials and a host of other politicians who are boycotting the tournament.
“We’re a new government, we believe in open dialogue, and we believe we have to show up to have it,” Wells said Thursday. “So I showed up to take Australia’s place at the table again and have an open dialogue.
“And as you’ve probably seen, as I’ve been tracking my year, I’ve now had several meetings with Qatari ministers where Australia’s position has been brought to the table.”
Wells spoke to the media at the Socceroos’ training base at the Aspire Academy, which sits next to Football Australia chief executive James Johnson.
When Johnson stopped declaring unequivocal support for Fifa’s beleaguered President Gianni Infantino, who is running unopposed for re-election in March, Wells dismissed the notion that sport and politics should be mutually exclusive.
“Sport is just as political as politics,” she said. “And the people who are trying to keep politics out of sport are the ones who currently have the power and are trying to keep that power against others who are trying to take their place and know their voice, which is why I feel so strongly stand up for the rights of athletes .”
Wells last month praised the Socceroos for their video statement detailing their concerns about the rights of migrant workers and LGBTQ+ people in Qatar, but on Thursday preached pragmatism as the most productive path to change.
She said the Qatari government is “interested in assessing where Australia stands” and described its leaders as “humble, honest and constructive”.
“I support athletes’ right to have a voice,” she said. “Athletes are not just pawns on the chessboard, they are people with rights… I didn’t need to explain the Socceroos video to the Qatari government, which was obviously broadcast around the world.
“On behalf of the Australian Government, we recognize the progress that has been made over 12 years. I think as a pragmatist you have to appreciate the work as it is going. Progress does not move in a straight line. We must acknowledge what has been done, we must acknowledge what needs to be done.
“We had a constructive, open discussion about what is to come and Australia’s role in it.
“We could all do more to advance human rights and this global review will turn to us in Australia next July [and New Zealand] Host of the Women’s World Cup.”
Wells’ comments came after Socceroos midfielder Jackson Irvine expressed his sympathy for European World Cup players who are facing sanctions for wearing the OneLove rainbow bracelets, but also questioned the message behind it.