Soccer-Ex-England player Barnes slams critics of World Cup hosts Qatar

FILE PHOTO: Premier League - Watford v Liverpool

(Reuters) - Former England international John Barnes slammed critics who have questioned World Cup hosts Qatar's treatment of migrant workers, saying detractors of the country had turned a blind eye to their progress on human rights.

Qatar, which was awarded hosting rights for the World Cup in 2010, has faced intense criticism from human rights groups over its treatment of migrant workers.

The country has made changes to its labour laws in recent years, dismantling much of its "kafala" sponsorship system, increasing the minimum wage and setting up an insurance fund to help migrants cheated of their wages.

"While there is still a long way to go, the situation is streets ahead of where they were ten years ago - with improvements in housing, facilities and wages," Barnes, who made 79 appearances for England between 1983-1995, wrote in a column for the Times.

"It's interesting to observe that some of those who are making a lot of noise now have had little to say about the development of Qatar over the previous 20 years."

Qatar has also drawn criticism for its laws against same-sex relationships, with homosexuality deemed illegal in the conservative Muslim country, but organisers have repeatedly said that everyone, no matter their sexual orientation or background, is welcome during the tournament.

Captains from seven European nations had planned to show support for LGBTQ people in Qatar during matches by wearing 'OneLove' armbands, but those plans were scrapped after FIFA threatened to impose sanctions.

Barnes condemned Qatar's stance on LGBT rights, but said that visitors to the country needed to respect their laws, adding that boycotting the World Cup "would have a far greater impact" than wearing an armband.

"Qatar has invited 'everyone' to the World Cup, gay or straight, but demand 'everyone' be respectful of their ways, laws and culture...," Barnes said.

"The rainbow colours and OneLove armband promote something that is illegal in Qatar, even if we think it shouldn't be. Visitors to our country would not be allowed to promote something that's illegal."

Barnes added that it was hypocritical for English critics to find fault with Qatar, pointing to the treatment of Black communities in Britain.

"While discrimination is enshrined in Qatari law, discrimination is also enshrined in British society and culture," Barnes said.

"Lots of Black people are stopped, searched and detained just because they are Black. Let's sort ourselves out before we start to lecture and preach to the rest of the world."

(Reporting by Aadi Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)