Arvind Hickman
Nov 30, 2022

Tony Blair: TfL’s ban on Qatar ads during World Cup is 'gesture politics'

He believes Transport for London's stance on Qatar is inconsistent and an overreaction.

Tony Blair: TfL’s ban on Qatar ads during World Cup is 'gesture politics'

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has slammed Transport for London's decision to ban Qatar ads across its travel network as “gesture politics”, describing the move as “over the top”.

Blair, who was speaking on Global’s The News Agents podcast, was responding to the transport network banning Qatar-related ads on the underground, buses and other TfL infrastructure due to concerns about the World Cup hosts’ human rights record, stance on homosexuality and treatment of migrant workers. Global's outdoor business is the sole provider of advertising across the London Underground network.

The ban has led Qatar to warn that it will review its investment in London; the Gulf state is one of the largest investors and landowners in London through its sovereign wealth fund, owning stakes in The Shard, Harrods and Canary Wharf among other famous sights.

Blair was responding to questions by hosts Jon Sopel and Emily Maitlis.

“I think we are in danger of going over the top on this. You must remember the last time we held the World Cup over here in England in 1966, being homosexual was still illegal.”

When Maitlis pointed out that the England World Cup was 55 years ago, Blair said that “countries change”.

Blair has forged close ties in the Middle East including forming part of a special envoy to help broker peace between Palestine and Israel, as well as consulting to help foreign companies do business in the region.

“I think there will be quite a big difference between the people that have actually visited Qatar in the last 10 years and the people who haven’t… there is a process of change.” 

When asked by Sopel whether he thought the Qatar ad ban is gesture politics, Blair responded: “I think it is, to be honest.”

Blair added that government organisations need to take a consistent position on how countries deal with issues such as gay rights and that he does not believe sports ministers from abroad wearing OneLove armbands at the World Cup would encourage progressive change.

Transport for London pointed out that since 2019, all ads on its network that reference countries identified by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) as having the death penalty for same-sex sexual acts are referred for review. This includes Qatar.

In relation to the Qatar World Cup, the transport body has guidance for ads that are likely to be acceptable. These include ads that promote TV coverage and encourage fans to support their teams.

Ads that are unlikely to pass muster are those that promote Qatar as a desirable destination to visit, including ticket sales for the World Cup.

A TfL spokesperson said: “Ahead of the Fifa World Cup 2022 getting underway, we provided our advertising partners and brands with further guidance on the advertising which we are likely to consider acceptable to run during the tournament while also ensuring that football fans are not denied the opportunity to support their teams.

"Each advertising campaign continues to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”

Campaign UK

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