World Cup in Qatar “embarrassing and humiliating”

Elisabeth Tarras-Wahlberg worked closely with the royal family at Stockholm Palace for over 30 years – including as press manager, information manager and head of the crown princess’s court staff, with the title of court marshal.

But when in 2008 she received an offer to become an adviser in international relations to the Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar, father of the current Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, she accepted without hesitation.

– I was curious, she says today.

The royal couple and the crown princess granted her application for leave of absence.

Crown Princess Victoria and Elisabeth Tarras Wahlberg in 2007.

Photo: CHARLES HAMMARSTEN / IBL

In 2001, Elisabeth Tarras-Wahlberg received a medal from the king for her efforts as head of information at the court.

Photo: BERTIL ERICSON / TT NEWS AGENCY

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But the new job did not turn out as planned.

– Already after a couple of days, I understood that the Qatari court was hardly ready for the adaptation it wanted to international standards regarding the protocol for dealings with countries outside the Arab world.

Employed by the emir’s wife

Only a few of her co-workers were fluent in English or any language other than Arabic.

– I also perceived it as if the head of protocol at Sheikh Hamad was not aware of my arrival. Sheikh Hamad’s one wife, Sheikha Moza – who appeared at his side officially – had had a protocol expert from Spain to achieve the same result in her court. She recognized the needs and was probably the one behind my employment.

Elisabeth Tarras-Wahlberg worked here.

Photo: MARTIN DIVISEK / EPA / TT / EPA TT NEWS AGENCY

Elisabeth Tarras-Wahlberg and Queen Silvia during a state visit to Bulgaria in 2001.

Photo: TORBJÖRN ANDERSSON

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What is your strongest memory from there?

– There are so many but maybe still when Qatar hosted the Arab Union’s annual meeting and I could look down into the garden of one of the official guest palaces from my window. A tent had been pitched there for Libyan dictator Muammar Gadaffi and his camels grazing on the flower beds. Then I remember how Khadaffi, surrounded by a number of blondes in uniform, during one of the sessions stood up and shouted “I am the King of Africa” ​​and marched out. He was unhappy about something, probably.

Elisabeth Tarras-Wahlberg once met the current Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani – the man who sat next to Fifa president Gianni Infantino during the inauguration.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino and Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on Tuesday.

Photo: JONAS EKSTRÖMER/TT / TT NEWS AGENCY

– On one occasion during my first time in Doha, during a reception, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said “Many strange things here, right?” It was he. To me he seemed more cosmopolitan and worldly than his father, although he always appeared in traditional dress. It seemed as if he was going to go further in the path of liberalisation, but apparently the opposite happened.

Tarras-Wahlberg: “Event Tourism”

During her time in Qatar, Al Thani married a second wife.

How do you view the criticism directed at Fifa because the country received the World Cup?

– I think it’s embarrassing, degrading for the sport. It is fundamentally absurd to allow a small desert country without significant infrastructure to have such a large sporting event, to change the entire schedule to suit the climate and to use guest workers for this.

– But Qatar has certainly paid what it costs to get the event. They have long been looking for event tourism and to catch up and beat their neighbours, Dubai. I clearly noticed that during my time there.

Crown Princess Victoria and Elisabeth Tarras-Wahlberg in Australia in 2005.

Photo: JACK MIKRUT / TT NEWS AGENCY

During her time in Qatar, she saw for herself how guest workers from poor countries were exploited – around the clock.

– I still have on my retina the image of them, sitting in the heat on the curbs waiting for the old school buses that would take them to the desert where they lived in barracks and containers without air conditioning.

There were a lot of blank stares, she remembers. And she saw them building skyscrapers.

– They climbed high on the bamboo scaffolding. These conditions were one of the reasons why I decided to leave Qatar, she says today.

“Nice not to see Sweden play in Doha”

Tarras-Wahlberg has heard reports of guest workers being stripped of their passports when they arrive in the country. The same thing happened in her vicinity.

– I had friends whose passports were also taken care of by the employer who had to give permission for every trip.

Elisabeth Tarras Wahlberg and Princess Madeleine in connection with the student in 2001.

Photo: Erhan Güner / TT NEWS AGENCY

– Now we can only hope that the international trade union movement can influence the situation in some small positive step. That the sports representatives can do it does not feel very likely; once they have gone home the Qataris don’t care. It will be interesting to see what happens with any player protests. But it is so nice not to see Sweden play in Doha.

Have you visited Qatar after 2009, if so when and why?

– I visited Qatar for a couple of days in the spring of 2017 during a private trip in the area – Oman and Dubai – to see how it developed and to show my current love where I had been.

When Elisabeth Tarras-Wahlberg returned home to Sweden in 2009, the crown princess had received a new court marshal and there were no other suitable positions within the court that were vacant.

Since then, she has worked as a self-employed person and, among other things, has been hired as a royal expert by TV4. In 2018, she started working as a consultant at the communications agency Lennox PR.

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The article is in Swedish

Tags: World Cup Qatar embarrassing humiliating

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