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Qatar reviews UK investments after advertising ban

November 26, 2022

London's transport authority has banned Qatar tourism ads due to the Gulf state's anti-LGBTQ laws. A spokesperson for Qatar accused London's mayor of "virtue signaling" for political points during the World Cup.

A view of Tower Bridge and The Shard with tour boat on the River Thames, London, England, United Kingdom
Qatar's sovereign wealth fund owns London's Shard skyscraper and has billions of other investments in BritainImage: Frank Fell/robertharding/picture alliance

Qatar says it will review its "current and future" investments in London after tourism advertisements for the Gulf country were banned over the World Cup host's laws against homosexuality, UK media reported Saturday.

The ads were due to run on the London Underground, the city's subway also known as the "Tube," as well as on buses during the soccer tournament.

Qatar is one of the biggest investors in the UK capital through its sovereign wealth fund.

How did Qatar reportedly respond to the ban?

The ban by Transport for London (TfL), the UK capital's public transport authority, "has been interpreted as a message from the mayor's office that Qatari business is not welcome in London," the Financial Times, a British newspaper, cited a spokesperson for Qatar as saying.

The spokesperson said Qatar was now reviewing its "current and future investments" in the city, according to the paper.

Sky News cited a source with knowledge of the review as saying the decision was "another blatant example of double standards and virtue signaling to score cheap political points" around the World Cup.

The source said the ban was a surprise coming "at a time when other investors are pulling out of London due to economic instability," a reference to the cost-of-living crisis and a recent run on the British pound that forced an intervention from the UK central bank.

Why did London ban the ads?

In 2019, London Mayor Sadiq Khan ordered that ads that reference countries identified as having the death penalty for same-sex sexual acts are referred to the transport regulator to have their suitability to feature on trains, buses and other sites reviewed.

Qatar is among 11 states listed as having "effective" or "probable" death penalty policies for sexual relations between same-sex partners, along with regional neighbors like Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

According to Human Rights Watch, the country's laws against homosexuality include jail or the death penalty for same-sex relations and many LGBTQ people are ill-treated upon arrest.

A TfL spokesperson said any advertising campaign related to countries with homophobic laws in place "continues to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis."

"Advertising which promotes travel to Qatar, tourism in Qatar, or portrays Qatar as a desirable destination will not be considered acceptable at this time," TfL noted, including those encouraging visiting for the World Cup.

Other ads promoting watching the tournament on TV or streaming services are likely to be accepted, the transport authority said.

TfL contacted Q22, the body overseeing the World Cup, and Qatar's tourism authority this week to inform them of the ban.

How big are Qatar's investments in London?

The Qatar Investment Authority, the country's $445 billion (€427 billion) sovereign wealth fund, has spent lavishly and snapped up some of Britain's best-known landmarks and businesses, including the luxury store Harrods, the Shard skyscraper and Canary Wharf.

The Gulf state also owns the Savoy and Grosvenor House hotels, a 20% stake in Heathrow Airport and a 14% stake in Sainsbury's, Britain's second-biggest supermarket group.

Harry Kane of England wearing the captain s armband England v Iran, FIFA World Cup in Ar-Rayyan, Qatar, November 21, 2022
England captain Harry Kane was due to wear a "one love" armband in support of LGBTQ rights but the gesture was bannedImage: Javier Garcia/Shutterstock/IMAGO

Qatar feels the heat

Qatar has received criticism from rights groups over the abuse of migrant workers building new stadiums for the tournament. Thousands of people died during the nearly 12 years of construction and preparations for the games.

The captains of several national teams had planned to wear rainbow armbands in support of LGBTQ rights but changed their minds after FIFA threatened to issue yellow cards and possible match bans to players.

mm/ar (AFP, Reuters)