Football

Billie Jean King backs hosts amid rights concerns

Billie Jean King backs hosts amid rights concerns
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Tennis trailblazer Billie Jean King has said the 2022 World Cup can open minds and become a power for good in Qatar amid widespread criticism over the host nation’s human rights abuses.

Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers and restrictive social laws which prohibit same-sex relationships has caused significant criticism of FIFA’s decision to hold the tournament in the country.

But King, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 for her advocacy work on behalf of women and the LGBTQ+ community, said it is important to « be an influencer. »

Asked if she would be happy to host the WTA’s Billie Jean Cup finals in Qatar, King said: « I probably would be because, first of all, the WTA went there years ago.

« I get a lot of different people coming to me saying ‘why would you play there the way they treat women?’

« But personally I think it’s important to show up and be an influencer. I think it’s delicate, no question. But I think it’s important to go if you get the opportunity and everything else fits too, not just go there for money or whatever. « 

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Amnesty International released a report in 2021 that alleged the exploitation of thousands of migrant workers. Qatar’s government have since denied the claims, but said its labor system is a work in progress.

King, who won 12 major Grand Slam singles titles and paved the way for equal prize-money at the four tennis majors, said staging the WTA Finals in Doha had created opportunities for female tennis players in the country.

« We were there four or five years and I think it helped, » King said in a conference call with a small group of reporters ahead of the Billie Jean Cup finals, which begin in Glasgow on Nov. 8.

« When I went there I did a clinic for the kids but only for the girls. Somebody was left-handed, which is sinister to them, and this mother was saying she hoped her left-handed daughter could one day become a champion and get rid of that stigma.

« These are the kind of discussions you can have when you’re physically there. So I’m big on going actually, even if I know it’s a fine line of how you do it. »

Qatari police stopped a one-man protest by British LGBT activist Peter Tatchell outside its national museum last week. Tatchell stood for more than an hour wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with « #Qatarantigay » and holding a placard that read « Qatar arrests and subjects LGBTs to conversion. »

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