Qatar’s World Cup chief has accused Gary Lineker of being prejudiced against the host nation’s football festival – and said the BBC’s coverage was racist. Hassan Al-Thawadi claimed ex-England striker and Match Of The Day host Lineker, 61, and ITV pundit Roy Keane, 51, had snubbed attempts to talk to organisers before criticising them live on air.
Mr Al-Thawadi also said Jurgen Klinsmann talking on the BBC about “their culture” was “very elitist, orientalist and racist to a certain extent”.
It follows weeks of controversy over the Qataris’ criminalisation of same-sex relationships and employment rights for migrant workers who build the stadiums.
Lineker, who has spoken out for LGBTQ rights in Qatar, denies an approach was ever made to him.
Mr Al-Thawadi, head of the World Cup’s supreme committee, also slammed ex-German star Klinsmann, 58 for accusing the Iranian team of “working the referee” in their win over Wales and saying: “This is their culture.”
Sheffield University graduate Mr Al-Thawadi said Lineker spent only three minutes on Qatar’s opening game against Ecuador.
He added he BBC put the tournament’s opening ceremony coverage on the red interactive button, before Lineker started the broadcast by criticising Qatar.
Organisers, he said, “reached out three or four times” to Lineker to “put our case in front”.
But he claimed: “We never got the chance. I was disappointed there was never the desire to listen to our part of the story. The most important element about this is breaking down misconceptions and stereotypes that people have, which means they need to engage.
“The reason is because it is a platform that gives you the opportunity to engage. People like Roy and Gary, or whoever else, there was no engagement.”
Mr Al-Thawadi said of the BBC’s red button decision: “They never bothered to do that with any other tournament. They never bothered to listen to the other side or at least present a balanced view to be able to sit down and move forward.”
He added: “There are definitely agendas that are presented very clearly that are beyond football. I want it to be about football and the fans.”
Mr Al-Thawadi said he had “looked up to” Lineker growing up, “so it was very disappointing that he never bothered to engage. We reached out many times”.
But Lineker tweeted: “Well, this is news to me. Neither my agent nor myself received any request to engage with anyone involved.” Yesterday, Klinsmann moved to play down his Wales v Iran comments, insisting they were “purely football related”.
He said: “Unfortunately, this was taken out of a footballing context. I have many Iranian friends and was always full of compliments for their people, culture, and history.”
Meanwhile Sir Tony Blair said it was “not sensible” for Britain to question’s Qatar’s record as it hosted such a major event.
The former Labour prime minister, 69, said: “You can feel strongly about gay rights, and indeed, my government introduced a huge amount of legislation on it and I’m a total supporter of it.
“But I think it’s not sensible of us to disrespect Qatar. This is their biggest event that they’ve held. It’s a huge event for the country.”
Sports minister Stuart Andrew, who is gay, vowed to wear the OneLove rainbow armband banned by Fifa at tonight’s England v Wales match.