The Qatar government paid for Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford to stay in a luxury five-star hotel during his World Cup trip to the country
The first minister, the economy minister – Vaughan Gething – and four officials were put up for three nights in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Doha.
The Welsh government was highly critical of Qatar’s human rights record prior to and during the World Cup.
Qatar gained international condemnation over its treatment of women, LGBTQ+ people and migrants.
However, Mr Drakeford said they had made the decision to attend to promote Wales and the country’s values on the world stage and further economic links with the Gulf state.
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request, submitted by BBC Wales, showed the host nation provided the accommodation, board, and transport as part of a hospitality package offered to all delegates and their travelling parties attending the football tournament.
Welsh Liberal Democrats leader Jane Dodds told BBC Wales that “by accepting this gift from the Qatari government, Mark Drakeford has potentially undermined the Welsh government’s commitment towards human rights, LGBTQ+ rights and women’s rights”.
She suggested the government should donate the equivalent cost of the trip to human rights charities.
Plaid Cymru’s sport and international affairs spokeswoman Heledd Fychan said both ministers should now have to explain to the Senedd in detail how they raised issues about human rights in Qatar.
The Welsh government in response said: “This was an opportunity to discuss trade and investment opportunities, meet with members of the Qatar government and the International Labour Organisation to discuss worker rights, and to take part in cultural meetings to strengthen the links between Qatar and Wales.
“The visit also was a chance to share our values on human rights, LGBTQ+ rights, workers’ rights and political and religious freedom.”
Felix Jakens of Amnesty International UK said: “It would be a cause of real concern if politicians were accepting lavish hospitality – at the World Cup or anywhere else – from foreign governments and then feeling compromised when it came to raising human rights issues.
“We repeatedly called on politicians and others with influence who attended the World Cup in Qatar to raise human rights issues with their hosts and with FIFA, and we would hope that Mark Drakeford and Vaughan Gething can show that they sought to do this.
“Qatar was only able to host this highly controversial World Cup because of its systematic exploitation of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, and meanwhile LGBTQ+ people in Qatar continue to run the risk of arrest and imprisonment, and freedom of speech and women’s rights are still unacceptably curtailed.”
In the FOI response, the Welsh government said: “A total of eight officials and two ministers travelled to Qatar for the World Cup.
“Accommodation for the two ministers and accompanying four officials was provided by the Qatari government at no cost.
“A hospitality package was offered by the Qatari government to the heads of state of each country that qualified for the World Cup but the Welsh government does not hold any information about the value of this package.
“The remaining four officials travelled by economy class.
“The total cost of four return flights was £3,768. The total cost of accommodation in Doha for four officials travelling economy class was £20,320 and the rating of the hotel was four star.”
In a later FOI, the government confirmed “the hotel used was the Ritz-Carlton, Doha for three nights” and that the First Minister and Economy Minister and four officials stayed there.
Ministers and officials also visited prior to the tournament once on a ministerial visit and another time on a scoping trip.
Mr Gething travelled to Qatar for two days on 9 May, “to develop economic links with Qatar and to discuss [their] values with Qatari organisations”.
However, costs relating to ministerial engagements are exempt from FOI requests.
Three officials went on a scoping visit between 23 October and 27 October, the total cost of the visit was said to be £5,272.
The year before in 2021, nine officials travelled to Qatar seven separate times, the trips costing a combined £14,624.
During his visit to Qatar, Mr Gething told PA news agency: “There is the reality of our relationship with Qatar, for example Qatar owns over two-thirds of South Hook, the natural gas importing entry way in South West Wales.
“Wales also has business interests here amounting to about three-quarters of a billion pounds worth of trade with this region – which means we have lots of direct interests,” he added.
South Hook provides 20 per cent of the UK’s total gas demand, while Qatar is expected to invest up to £10 billion in the UK over the next five years.
The Welsh government worked with youth organisation Urdd Gobaith Cymru to run sports, arts and cultural workshops with school children across Qatar in the week running up to the World Cup, this included bringing young female ambassadors to run programmes that would empower young girls.