Wales’ economy minister has insisted there is still “every chance” the country’s team will qualify for the next round of the World Cup, as he blasted Fifa for their actions during the tournament.
Vaughan Gething, who is in Qatar to represent the Welsh Government at the impending match against England on Tuesday, said supporters would be “proud of our players regardless of the result”.
But he expressed “disappointment” at the issues fans wearing rainbow bucket hats faced while trying to enter stadiums on game days.
“Of course it was disappointing because in meeting the Supreme Committee, the organising committee, they said everyone was welcome,” Mr Gething told the PA news agency.
“Fifa also said this was a World Cup for everyone.
“But the way Fifa have acted during the tournament by making last-minute changes to the rules of engagement – such as saying no alcohol in the stadium and the armband issue.
“The fact Fifa went to the England hotel on the morning of the game day to say your captain will get a yellow card in the tunnel if you wear it is an extraordinary thing to have done – and not in a good way.
“Fifa really needs to decide whether they are serious about football being for everyone and if they are serious about living up to the way they say they want people around the game to behave.”
Laura McAllister, former Wales captain, was among those prevented from entering the stadium wearing her rainbow coloured bucked hat during Wales’ first match against the USA, but said she was allowed through with no issues during the Iran game.
The UK’s sports minister Stuart Andrew is also in Doha and announced he plans to wear the rainbow-coloured armband, prohibited by Fifa, when he attends the home nations’ clash.
The Conservative frontbencher, who is gay, said it was “really unfair” that football’s governing body prevented the captains of England and Wales donning the One Love anti-discrimination armband at the 11th hour.
In response to the news Mr Andrew would wear the armband – a move that risks upsetting his Qatari hosts – Mr Gething said: “Stuart Andrew needs to make his own choices, and he’s in a different position – this is very personal for him – and I understand that.”
The Welsh minister was speaking from an event at Katara Cultural Village in Doha on Monday while wearing a rainbow flag badge.
PA understands Mr Gething may also wear the badge at Tuesday’s match and possibly a rainbow coloured lanyard.
Mr Gething’s visit follows on from that of the First Minister Mark Drakeford who flew over to attend the Wales v USA game and is as much about promoting the country’s business interests as it is about displaying its values.
Asked if he was concerned about furthering ties with a country whose human rights record has attracted ongoing outrage and concern, he said: “There’s a rational argument that says government ministers shouldn’t come here, but that’s perhaps the easier option.
“We decided instead to come and have those conversations and be up front about the values Wales has as an inclusive country, and thus far those meetings have been constructive.
“There is the reality of our relationship with Qatar, for example Qatar owns over two-thirds of South Hook, the natural gas importing entry way in South West Wales.
“Wales also has business interests here amounting to about three-quarters of a billion pounds worth of trade with this region – which means we have lots of direct interests,” he added.
South Hook provides 20% of the UK’s total gas demand, while Qatar is expected to invest up to £10 billion in the UK over the next five years.
Prior to his engagement at the heritage centre he said he had met the Qatari finance minister before meeting the Wales football team at their training camp in Al-Sadd.
As a football fan, Mr Gething said he was “nervous” ahead of the final group stage bout.
“I’m always nervous before a game but always hopeful as well. You know, if we win, and there’s a draw in the other game, then there’s every chance we can still go through.
“We’ve seen a number of upsets in the tournament so far and who knows what will happen tomorrow night against our near neighbours and sporting rivals?
“I’m very positive and I think we can be proud of our players regardless of the result.”