The big deals and deals that are brewing in the VIP lounges of Qatar’s stadiums

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the VIP area of ​​Al Rayyan Stadium with Qatari officials before the game between the United States and Wales. (REUTERS/Carl Recine) (CARL RECINE/)

The restaurant’s specialty The sea of Doha it’s shellfish. However, in the spacious and elegant room in blue tones, the aroma of business and politics that are discussed at their tables. Located at kilometer 4.6 of the Corniche, inside the hotel Intercontinentalthe creation of the Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio, is one of the meeting points for politicians, entrepreneurs and powerful people from all over the world. One noon this week you could see there tables with US Senators specially invited by the Qatari government to watch the match between its selection and that of Iran. Immediately afterwards, a group of officials from the French Ministry of Energy talking with their colleagues from various emirates. Some Saudis discussing the construction of a new glass tower for the galactic silhouette of Doha. And some Russian oligarchs from the oil industry trying to close a new investment contract with negotiators from the Qatari sovereign wealth fund. Cigars and bajativos, in all cases, became the VIP lounges of some of the stadiums. that’s where business is closed and the political agreements in this gastronomic/soccer diplomacy which is developing in Qatar.

At halftime of the game in which the United States beat Iran by one goal to nil, at the stadium Al Thumamait was announced from Washington that the White House had approved the sale of arms to Qatar for 1,000 million dollars. In principle, they will be delivered 10 defensive drone systems and 200 interceptors and related equipment. The State Department said the sale would “support the foreign policy and national security objectives of USA by helping to enhance the security of a friendly country that continues to be a major force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East.” The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinkenhad been in Qatar the week before and witnessed the match between his country’s team and that of Welsh, despite the fact that he does not have any special appreciation for soccer. But if it’s about pleasing an important ally in the Middle East, it’s good to shout a goal and forget about criticizing the Qataris for human rights violations. Unlike Israel, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab EmiratesQatar aligned with the United States in favor of Ukraine and against Russia.

The moment in which the announcement of the arms sale was made was not by chance. It happened during the game with Iran, in a clear signal to the regime of the ayatollahs that the United States will protect its allies in the Persian Gulf that they may feel threatened by the military might of the Persians. Also because of what was happening within the delegation of that country in Doha.

The detail was that this time, Iranian players sang the national anthem with a stony face. In the first match against England they had refused to do so as a sign of support for the protests that are taking place in Iran over the death of the young woman Mahsa Amini and women’s rights. Team Captain, Alireza Jahanbakhshhad explained that it was “a collective decision” to repudiate the repression of the regime.

A group of fans from Iran unfurl banners that put together the name of Mahsa Amini, the girl murdered by the ayatollahs' regime that unleashed a wave of protests.  (REUTERS/Molly Darlington)
A group of fans from Iran unfurl banners that put together the name of Mahsa Amini, the girl murdered by the ayatollahs’ regime that unleashed a wave of protests. (REUTERS/Molly Darlington) (MOLLY DARLINGTON/)

According to a report from the news network CNNthe footballers were summoned to a meeting with members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps where they were told that their families would suffer “violence and torture” if they did not count the national anthem or if they joined some other political protest against the Tehran regime. “There are a large number of Iranian security agents in Qatar. collecting information and monitoring players”, indicated a source inside the delegation. He also said that the regime sent “hundreds of actors who posed as fans to create a false sense of support and favor among supporters” and that if they made it through, the Ali Khamenei regime and President Ebrahim Raisi “ plans to significantly increase the number of actors to thousands.” The team was eliminated in the group stage. Now there is fear for the players. A young man he was assassinated by revolutionary guards when he celebrated the defeat and that created a violent climate.

Another significant agreement was announced between parties: Germany signed a 15-year agreement to purchase 2 million tons of liquefied gas of Qatar, sending mixed signals about the priority Germany places on human rights in the Gulf and its commitment to a carbon-neutral energy supply. The previous week, the German team had protested against the censorship that FIFA imposed on players who wanted to wear armbands in favor of the rights of the Qatari LGBTQ community and the exploited foreign workers who built the stadiums. When they took the photo together in the preview of the game with Japan, they covered their mouths showing their disgust at what was happening. According to some Berlin media outlets, the players received a suggestion to avoid demonstrations of this type so as not to hinder the negotiations for “the gas that the country needs so much.”

Germany was badly affected by the cut off of gas supplies from Russia as a result of the sanctions for the invasion of Ukraine and has been desperately looking for alternatives ever since. The agreement with Qatar Energy It will only come into force in 2026, but it is possible that the liquefied gas tap will open much earlier with purchases through the American company i know phillipswhich will deliver it to the LNG terminal of Brunsbuttel. To unblock the agreement it was necessary for the German Minister of the Interior, Nancy Faeser, retract his criticism of the violations of human rights in Qatar. He had to resort to the hackneyed formula of “I was taken out of context” and “I was misunderstood.” The Qatari Minister of Energy, Saad Sherida Al Kaabi, was not let through at the agreement signing ceremony. “The West cannot dictate to us what we have to think,” she said.

Meeting between Vladimir Putin and the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani during the summit in Astana, Kazakhstan, in October.  (Sputnik/Vyacheslav Prokofyev/Pool via REUTERS)
Meeting between Vladimir Putin and the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani during the summit in Astana, Kazakhstan, in October. (Sputnik/Vyacheslav Prokofyev/Pool via REUTERS) (SPUTNIK/)

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, also threw a ball into the area for the Qataris to head. During his official visit to Washington and between ceremonies with the president Joe Bidenhad time to launch a “We cannot politicize sports.” Another contradiction after very harsh criticism of the Qataris was heard in France, even from the government itself. It is that the occupant of the Palace Élysée is looking for an agreement similar to that of the Germans to receive liquefied gas and also has a pending major arms sale to Qatar and other Gulf emirates.

Still, Qatar seems to be making a diplomatic move to accept some of the external criticism and continue with its operation of “face wash”. The secretary general of the so-called Supreme Committee of the Organization and the Legacy of Qatar 2022, that is, the body that organizes the World Cup, Hassan Al-Thawadi, dropped a real bombshell this week. He recognized that “between 400 and 500 migrant workers” died in the construction of stadiums and other works related to the preparation of the tournament. He confessed to the British journalist Piers Morgan in an interview for talk tv. It is the first time that Qatar accepts that there have been a considerable number of victims due to mistreatment by contractor companies, the lack of rest for immigrant workers and the extremely high temperatures under which they were forced to work.

According to FIFA, more than 30,000 people worked 425 million hours in 25 locations to create an infrastructure that did not exist until a few years ago and have everything ready for the competition. Most of the workers came from Southeast Asia, hired by intermediary agencies that took most of their wages. And until local legislation was changed in 2019, they were forced to work in the hellish months of June to September with temperatures up to 50 degrees Celsius.

Workers during the construction of the Lusail stadium.  Now, Qatar has admitted that between 400 and 500 foreign workers died during the stadium and infrastructure works.  (REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach)
Workers during the construction of the Lusail stadium. Now, Qatar has admitted that between 400 and 500 foreign workers died during the stadium and infrastructure works. (REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach) (KAI PFAFFENBACH/)

Those who appear shielded from all kinds of criticism are the Russian oligarchs that they are here doing business without taking any risk from the sanctions imposed by the West as a result of the invasion of Ukraine. They moored their huge yachts in the Doha ports without fear of confiscation. This same week in the neighbor Dubaithe United States Department of the Treasury managed to confiscate a splendid ship valued at $156 million. The Madame Gu belongs to the steel magnate and deputy, Andrey Skoch. She was moored in the famous Mina Rashid marina, where the imposing Queen Elizabeth 2 ocean liner has its dock. But this does not happen in Qatar. Here foreign investments prevail and the Russians are among the privileged partners. Between 2016-2020, trade between Russia and Qatar increased by 172%. Russian exports to Qatar grew by 161%. The famous Qatari investment fund of 335,000 million dollars bet heavily on the Russian market. It bought the VTB bank, which is under Western sanctions, and the Pulkovo airport in Saint Petersburg. It also invested more than 11,000 million dollars in the oil company Rosneft.

In the corridors of the privileged areas of the stadiums you can see these Russians and all these billionaires with the t-shirts of their countries, always accompanied by Qatari hosts. They watch the game without leaving the screen of their cell phones with the latest stock market information. Soccer is the excuse to continue practicing the sport in which all of them really stand out.

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