The head of the Qatar World Cup has branded some of the BBC’s coverage of the tournament “very racist” and accused Gary Lineker of failing to engage with organisers before criticising them live on air.
Hassan Al-Thawadi also lashed out at ITV pundit Roy Keane in a blistering attack on the fiercest critics of one of the most controversial events ever staged.
Al-Thawadi, the Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, went on the attack over the BBC’s decision to begin its World Cup coverage with a monologue from Lineker about the scandals to plague the build-up to the tournament, and to focus on those at the expense of the opening ceremony.
He condemned comments by Jurgen Klinsmann, one of the corporation’s star pundits, in which the former Germany player and manager accused Iran of having a “culture” of gamesmanship, and took issue with Keane’s contention that the World Cup should not be in Qatar.
Al-Thawadi told talkSPORT: “Unfortunately, I’ve seen some of the coverage that seems to be kind of pushing towards that stereotype of the Middle East. I’ll give an example: the Iran-Wales game. Iran played very good – would you say so? They were the better team, up until the 95th or 96 minute, right?
“And, yet, the coverage that we saw, for example, on BBC, by Jurgen Klinsmann, talking about how it’s part of their culture, and reflecting the players in a way that was – I hate using the word but I will use only once just because I don’t ever want to give power to the word – very, very elitist, very orientalist, very racist to a certain extent.
“When you’re sitting down looking at what was happening and you’re saying, ‘That’s part of their culture’, what do you mean by that? Was it misunderstood or was it was a reflection he was representing a culture in a very negative way?”
'They never bothered to listen to the other side'
Al-Thawadi, who attended university in the UK, added: “When it comes to statements that come out, for example, from Roy or from Gary, or whoever else it is, there was no engagement.
“The sad part, for example, for me: Gary Lineker, as I was growing up, I looked up to him.
“I used to look at ‘They Think It’s All Over’. For me, it was a show that I used to love watching. I loved the banter, I loved the sense of humour, I loved everything about it. And so, for me, it’s very disappointing that Gary never bothered to engage, and I say it openly. He never bothered to engage. We reached out. We reached out many times. In February, we reached out over three or four times, specifically requesting to engage with Gary, to sit down and say, ‘We understand your position. Give us the opportunity to put our case in front. At least hear us out. If you don’t agree then, that’s fine, that’s your decision, and that’s your judgement’.
“But we never got the chance. There was never the desire to listen to our part of the story.”
He went on: “The reality is, a lot of the coverage that’s come out there, the way the BBC covered the opening ceremony, the way Gary Lineker took three minutes, they never bothered to do that with any other tournament.
“They never bothered to listen to the other side, or at least present a balanced view to be able to sit down and move forward.
“So there are definitely agendas that are presented very clearly that are beyond football.”
Responding on Twitter to Al-Thawadi’s interview, Lineker wrote: “Well, this is news to me. Neither my agent nor myself received any request to engage with anyone involved with Qatar 2022. I have my weaknesses, but I’m not that rude. Very odd.”
Klinsmann posted on Twitter:
The Daily Telegraph has seen emails showing attempts were made to set up a meeting between Al-Thawadi and BBC presenters and pundits before April’s World Cup draw.
A source also said talks with senior executives at the corporation floundered because they refused to commit to getting the likes of Lineker in the same room as the tournament chief.
A BBC spokesperson said: “We have a responsibility to cover the legitimate issues associated with this World Cup without fear or favour, alongside bringing audiences the tournament action on the pitch, and we strongly refute these claims.”
Meanwhile, Al-Thawadi’s talkSPORT interview also appeared to attempt to justify denying those sporting rainbow colours from entry into World Cup matches.
He said: “Wouldn’t happen in Europe, but let’s be very clear: from day one, we’ve said everybody’s welcome, right?
“But what we’ve always asked for is also for people to come and kind of respect our culture, our religion, and it’s not a Qatari culture or a Qatari religion.
“These values that we’re talking about are regional, right? It’s for the Islamic world, it’s for the Arab world, it’s for the Middle East.
“But when it comes to a topic like this, it is a complicated topic. This is something, for us, or for at least this part of the world, that’s a fundamental part of religious values.”
He also admitted to having “an issue with” England and other European teams wanting their captains to wear the ‘OneLove’ armband in Qatar in support of LGBTQ+ rights.
He added: “What you’re essentially saying is you’re protesting an Islamic country hosting an event. So, where does that end? Does that mean that no Islamic country can ever be able to participate in anything?”