Mark Drakeford has met campaigners ahead of his upcoming trip to the Qatar World Cup who urged him to use “every opportunity” to speak up for LGBTQ+ and women’s rights.
The First Minister was at Cardiff City Stadium on Wednesday to meet Tracy Brown, co-chair of the Rainbow Wall – the Welsh football team’s first LGBTQ+ supporters group which was launched in 2021.
Ms Brown presented the First Minister with a Rainbow Wall badge and rainbow bucket hat, and said: “We’re a small nation but we can have a big voice while we’re out there and it’s one competition the whole world watches, and it’s a universal language – football.
“I think it’s about holding Qatar to account but also Fifa, because they made the decision to hold it there.
“The LGBTQ+ community is still persecuted so even though they’re trying to say we’re all welcome we’re obviously not and that’s a major problem.
“My point of view, and the point of view of our friends and allies, would be that when you go out there if you have the opportunity to raise those questions and see what they say back to you.”
Mr Drakeford insisted there would be opportunities to highlight those issues, and said the Welsh Government had already discussed them with those involved in the tournament.
He later told the PA news agency it had been a “challenging decision” whether to attend the World Cup in the Arab state.
He said: “On the one hand it is very important that we are there to support our team – it’s the first time in 64 years – but also because it provides such a platform to promote Wales and its interests around the world.
“On the other hand, the concerns about the World Cup being in Qatar – the concerns about workers’ rights, human rights, LGBTQ+ rights. Those are very real.
“There’s a proper debate as to whether or not the best way to try and influence those matters is to make a stand by not going or whether it is better to go and to voice the concerns and the values that matter to people in Wales.
“Having thought a great deal about it and weighed it all up, our view is that other countries right across the world will be represented at the World Cup by their governments. It is right that Wales should be represented as well.”
Mr Drakeford added that the Welsh Government “shares the discomfort” of people concerned about the World Cup being held in Qatar.
“But nevertheless Wales is in the World Cup, one of only 32 countries, a small nation of only three million people on that stage, a rare opportunity – we shouldn’t allow that opportunity to go missing.”
The First Minister is due to fly to Qatar this week ahead of the Wales v USA match on Monday, which he said he was most excited for and would use to “raise the profile of Wales”.
When asked for his tournament predictions, Mr Drakeford said: “Wales has every chance of going through the first round to the knockout stages.”
In a video message for the Wales team, Mr Drakeford echoed the words of former Wales manager Chris Coleman and urged players to “dare to dream”.
Mr Drakeford told PA: “That’s the fantastic thing about sports isn’t it? On the day, any side can beat any other side.
“Once you’re there, then you should dare to dream about what Wales can achieve.”