Gary Neville has suggested Qatar are more harshly treated than Saudi Arabia and the UAE when it comes to criticism of their human rights record as he launched another impassioned defence of his decision to work for a state-owned broadcaster at the World Cup.
The former Manchester United and England defender has sparked a backlash on social media for agreeing to be a pundit for beIN Sports during the tournament.
Qatar has been heavily criticised over its stance on human rights, particularly its attitude towards women and gay people, in the build-up to the World Cup.
The nation, which criminalises homosexuality, has also come under heavy scrutiny from human rights groups over its treatment of migrant workers.
Some have slammed Neville on Twitter for his decision but the pundit, 47, has insisted he will “never shy away” from highlighting controversial issues even when working for beIN.
Neville said human rights records in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, who are both heavily involved in football through their ownership of Manchester City and Newcastle, respectively, were “worse” but the two countries seem to avoid the level of scrutiny and criticism aimed at Qatar.
“We are talking about Man City like it’s a golden ticket – they’re owned by Abu Dhabi, who have massive issues with women’s rights, worker’s rights, LGBTQ rights.. exactly the same, in fact worse, than Qatar,” Neville, speaking ahead of The Overlap Live show next month, told Sportsmail.
“Qatar have had Amnesty International and the International Labour Organisation all over them for the last 10 years because of the World Cup.
“Saudi Arabia have come into our country to own Newcastle and they’ve got terrible human rights issues over there – the journalist killed there a few years ago, for example – and people work for them in this country.
“We either decide we are going to work with these nations in the middle east – we have sold about 40 billion quid’s worth of arms to middle eastern countries over the past 10 years as a UK government, they own half of London and are probably donating to the Conservative party.
“We either decide that we collaborate with these countries, and try and impact change through football; which is what I think we should always do. Or we say we’re never going to let them play sport, we’re never going to have a World Cup there, we’re never going to allow them to compete against us because they don’t have what would be as progressive rights as they should have.
“That is the reality of where I’m at with it. There’s no-one that I think wants workers” rights to be better than me, there’s no-one who wants women’s rights, equality or diversity more than me, I absolutely believe in it.”
Neville promised he would continue to speak out on such issues during the World Cup, where he will also be working for ITV, and said he wasn’t bothered by the criticism he has faced.
“When I highlight these issues, I can do so from a position whereby if I am covering eight games on beIN in a World Cup, and those issues come up or there’s an incident outside the stadium, I will highlight them, as I will on ITV, as I will on my own channels. I will never shy away from it,” he said.
“What is really going to be interesting is English players and English pundits who have got ambassadorial roles with your Newcastles or Man Citys, or played for those clubs, who have got Saudi Arabian and Abu Dhabi ownership.
“Because the Kafala system, where they remove your passport from you, is something that has now been abolished in Qatar – where there has been progression because of the scrutiny of the World Cup being there – but these systems still exist in Abu Dhabi, in Dubai and all these places we frequent on holidays.
“The way construction workers and hospitality workers get treated in Qatar is not good enough and it is not right at all. So, for me, I can understand where the criticism comes from because I put myself out there and to be fair try to defend people’s rights in this country all the time and I’ll continue to do that through football in different countries as well.
Qatar’s hosting of the tournament is contentious given their numerous human rights abuses, discrimination against LGBT+ people, deaths of migrant workers and accusations of corruption
“It does not bother me in any way shape or form because I feel I’ve got quite a consistent and strong position on it.”
Neville also leapt to the defence of his former team-mate David Beckham. The former England star’s £10million deal to be an ambassador for the tournament has been at the centre of widespread criticism, revealed by the Mail on Sunday.
“[People forget] Beckham went to play for PSG who had Qatari ownership,” he said.
“Beckham to be fair to him has a relationship with the Qataris through his relationship with PSG, and the work he has done in terms of amplifying our country through the world is probably second to none in the past five to 10 years.”
Neville was recently involved in a punchy social media debate with Adam Brooks, who describes himself as a publican and social commentator, over his work in Qatar. Manchester United legend David Beckham has a £10 million ($11.3 million) ambassador deal with Qatar
Brooks asked him if he felt awkward. Neville took the bait and insisted: “I don’t do awkward. That’s the position the Labour Party MP’s should take.
“Are you one of those that thinks everyone has to be the same within the same team? I’m not.
“I will go over and enjoy the football and speak about all the issues that face a World Cup in the Middle East and Qatar.”
When another Twitter user piled in to ask if his wage helped him make his decision to go, Neville fired back: “If you think I make decisions based on money you’re wrong but happy for you to go with it!
“The money will make no difference to me whatsoever.”
When this was followed up with a suggestion he should give his wage to charity, Neville appeared to rule it out – on the basis of his generosity so far this year.
He declared, “I donated over £250,000 ($282,000) to charity in the last 12 months. You?”
- A Daily Mail report