German sports minister to attend World Cup amid human rights row

German Interior Minister and Sport Minister Nancy Faeser intends to be in attendance when Germany kick off their football World Cup campaign against Japan, a spokesman said Monday.

German sports minister to attend World Cup amid human rights row
Faeser during an interview on November 17th. picture alliance/dpa/dpa-POOL | Hannes P Albert

Faeser “plans to travel on to Qatar” following a working visit to Turkey, the spokesman said.

The presence of officials at the tournament has been surrounded by controversy amid criticism of the organisers’ record on human rights and the treatment of migrant workers.

Faeser wanted to “support” the German men’s team in their opening game at the Khalifa International Stadium on Wednesday, the spokesman said.

“At the same time she has stressed that she wants to continue her dialogue with the Qatari government on domestic reforms, in particular the improvement of the human rights situation,” he said.

Faeser had previously described the award of the World Cup to Qatar as “very tricky”, and said “it would be better that tournaments are not awarded to such states”.

She already signalled her intention to be at the game against Japan following a trip to the Gulf state at the end of October, where she received assurances over the safety for LGBTQ fans.

Ahead of the tournament, the Danish government announced that no ministers nor Copenhagen’s ambassador would attend the opening ceremony or any matches.

Officially, the Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen was busy building a new cabinet following her election victory earlier in November.

Olaf Scholz’s spokesman Steffen Hebestreit last week could not confirm that the chancellor would be in attendance were the German team to progress to the final.

In protest of the games, several sports bars around Germany have announced that they will not be showing the games, or using them to raise awareness of the human rights situation in Qatar.

READ ALSO: German football bars boycott ‘unacceptable’ Qatar World Cup

Former comments

The World Cup has been viewed with increasing scrutiny in Germany. Qatar will accept gay visitors but “they have to accept our rules”, former international footballer Khalid Salman said in a controversial interview with the Germany’s ZDF broadcaster earlier this month.

Salman also said homosexuality was “haram” — forbidden in Islam — during the interview, which was abruptly broken off after his comments.

Faeser called Salman’s comments “awful”. “That is also the reason why we are working to hopefully improve things in Qatar in the future,” she added.

READ ALSO: How a World Cup controversy started a human rights debate in Germany

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What do Germans think of Merkel a year after her departure?

Angela Merkel left the German chancellery on December 8th, 2021 at the height of her global stature. Twelve months on, it is hard to find a more precipitous drop in popularity and prestige in modern European politics.

What do Germans think of Merkel a year after her departure?

The offices accorded to the former leader are in view of the Russian embassy, where since the Ukraine invasion in February Berliners regularly leave signs and flowers protesting the war.

Long called the world’s most powerful woman, Merkel these days has pulled back from the spotlight, working on her memoirs and enjoying the occasional television series, such as “The Crown”, which tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II’s turbulent decades on the throne.

But in many quarters the broad German support she once enjoyed as a staunch defender of Western liberal values has curdled.

“One year on, the world is in flames, Russia invaded Ukraine, gas and  petrol prices are through the roof and Germany fears the winter,” wrote Der Spiegel magazine’s Alexander Osang, a longtime Merkel confidant.

“Angela Merkel went from role model to culprit, from crisis-manager to crisis-causer.”

Invitation to Bucha

Germany’s first female chancellor has been accused of placating Russian President Vladimir Putin in the name of realpolitik, while deepening Germany’s energy dependence on Moscow — not least by backing the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project even after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

READ ALSO: Merkel says no regrets over Germany’s Russia gas deals

Hedwig Richter, modern history professor at Munich’s Bundeswehr University, said Merkel‘s loss of standing had been “exceptional”, representing a generation of political failings.

“Amorality is not the same thing as realpolitik,” Richter told AFP.

“The governments of the last 16 years thought it was realistic to place values such as human rights and climate protection last in politics. But now reality is striking back.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has laid the blame at Merkel‘s feet, in particular for a decision at a 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest not to admit his country to the alliance.

In April, he offered her a barbed invitation to Bucha, the site of an alleged massacre of Ukrainian civilians, “to see what the policy of concessions to Russia has led to in 14 years”.

Looming energy shortages due to Russian retaliation for Western sanctions have also soured the mood against Merkel at home.

In the public debate, “Merkel was tied up with this war and certainly to blame for the missing gas”, said Nico Fried, who covered Merkel during all four of her terms, in Stern magazine.

“The question is what remains of Merkel after 16 years, whether her historical portrait is already fading before it was even really framed.”

‘Horribly neglected’

Just 23 percent of Germans would want Merkel back in power, according to a Civey institute poll in late November.

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: Are Germans questioning Merkel’s legacy?

In this file photo taken on November 10, 2021 then outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then German Finance Minister and Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz attend a press conference to present the annual report of the German Council of Economic Experts (Wirtschaftsweise) in Berlin. (Photo by Kay Nietfeld / POOL / AFP)

Richter said Merkel had “great achievements” including allowing in more  than one million asylum seekers and standing as a beacon of “decency” and  “democratic duty” when strongmen like Putin and Donald Trump were on the march.

But she said two key miscalculations would cast a long shadow.

“Firstly, the inability of the (German) republic to defend itself. And because this is closely linked to the fossil-fuel dependence on Russia, it threw a spotlight on destruction of the planet,” she said.

“The Merkel governments horribly neglected both these issues.”

Merkel, 68, has mounted a tentative counter-offensive, arguing that she acted in good conscience given the facts on the ground at the time.

She said she tried to use Nord Stream 2 as a bargaining chip to ensure Putin respected the 2015 Minsk accords aimed at stopping the fighting in Ukraine.

Merkel told Fried she pledged to US President Joe Biden last year that if Russia invaded Ukraine, the pipeline deal would be scrapped — a threat her successor Olaf Scholz made good on days before the war began.

Osang noted the irony that “Putin of all people, whom she has known so well and long, with all his tricks, lies, bragging” had muddied her reputation.

One of Merkel‘s lessons from the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that it was “economic, more than democratic, deprivation” that led to the communist system’s collapse.

Osang said this had coloured her approach to trade with China and energy deals with Russia.

She said Scholz’s billions in spending to help Germans facing high gas prices were now justified.

“Not everyone is in a position to freeze for Ukraine,” she said.