By Andrew Mills
DOHA (Reuters) -Qatar has faced unprecedented criticism since winning the bid to host the 2022 World Cup, some of which amounted to slander, its ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, said on Tuesday.
“We initially dealt with the matter in good faith,” Sheikh Tamim said in a televised policy speech, adding that some of the early criticism was constructive.
But, he said, a campaign against Qatar expanded to “include fabrications and double standards that were so ferocious that it has unfortunately prompted many people to question the real reasons and motives behind the campaign”.
Qatar, the first Middle Eastern country to host the World Cup, has come under intense international criticism for its treatment of foreign workers and restrictive social laws.
The emir was addressing a session of the Gulf Arab state’s advisory Shura Council as Doha gears up to host soccer’s main global event, which kicks off on Nov. 20.
Qatar expects 1.2 million visitors during the tournament, creating an unprecedented logistical and policing challenge for the tiny Gulf Arab state.
Sheikh Tamim said hosting the World Cup was “a great test for a country the size of Qatar”.
“We accepted this challenge out of our faith in our potential, we the Qataris, to tackle the mission and make it a success,” he said.
“It is a championship for all, and its success is success for all.”
Doha has introduced reforms including rules to protect workers from heat and a monthly minimum wage of 1,000 riyals ($275), and says it continues to develop its labour system.
Foreign workers account for 85% of the some 3 million population of Qatar, which is among the world’s top natural gas producers and one of the wealthiest nations per capita.
Sheikh Tamim said higher energy prices had helped Qatar realise a government budget surplus of 47.3 billion riyals ($12.8 billion) for the first half of 2022, versus a projected deficit, and gross domestic product growth of 4.3%, according to initial estimates.
“The budget surplus will be directed to reducing the level of public debt and increasing the state’s financial reserves,” he said.
The World Cup would allow Qatar to showcase its economic and institutional strength and cultural identity, he said.
(Reporting by Andrew Mills in Doha and Ghaida Ghantous, Nadine Awadalla and Moataz Mohamed, Editing by Andrew Heavens, Robert Birsel)