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The cycling federation of Qatar – a country that’s been accused of human-rights abuses – announced Sunday that it had disinvited the world’s No. 1 cycling team, Belgian-based Etixx-Quick-Step, because its riders take too long to change clothes after races, take too long to do interviews, and take too long to get to the podium ceremonies.
The news came on the eve of the five-day Tour of Qatar race, which attracts the world’s top teams.
“I’ve decided not to send them an invitation despite their wish to participate,” Qatar Cycling Federation President Sheikh Khalid Bin Ali Al Thani told a press conference in Doha on Sunday, AFP reported.
“On several occasions the team has displayed disciplinary problems,” he explained. “For example, they take too long to change and give interviews even though they are expected on live television, and they take too long to reach the podium.”
The sheikh accused the team of “lacking respect.”
VeloNews reported the sheikh said Etixx was disrespectful to a female employee at a past race:
“We sent them a special lady to hurry them up, and they talked to her not in a very nice way and waved her off like that,” Al Thani said. “That was not good.”
The organizer of the Tour of Qatar, the Amaury Sport Organisation, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider. Nor did the Etixx team.
Etixx has dominated the Tour of Qatar, with Belgian strongman Tom Boonen winning four editions (2006, 2008, 2009, 2012) and Dutch star Niki Terpstra successful in 2014 and 2015.
The Belgian outfit won more races than any other team in 2015.
An American journalist at the race interviewed Al Thani in a video posted on YouTube (his comments about Etixx begin at 0:40):
Allegations of human-rights abuses
“Qatar does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking,” according to the CIA World Factbook, though “it is making significant efforts to do so.”
The CIA also notes:
The predominantly foreign workforce migrates to Qatar legally but often experiences situations of forced labor, including debt bondage, delayed or nonpayment of salaries, confiscation of passports, abuse, hazardous working conditions, and squalid living arrangements; foreign female domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to trafficking because of their isolation in private homes and lack of protection under Qatari labor laws; some women who migrate for work are also forced into prostitution.
Qatar dismissed as “groundless” in December a claim that as many as 7,000 people would die working on projects for the 2022 World Cup, AFP reported.
In January, Human Rights Watch said “Qatari labor reforms enacted in 2015 failed to provide meaningful protection to low-paid migrant workers and left them acutely vulnerable to trafficking and forced labor.”
Qatar is also hosting the UCI World Road Championships later this year.
Launched in 2002, the Tour of Qatar was the first major cycling event in the Middle East, VeloNews reported, paving the way for other events, such as the Tour of Oman, the Dubai Tour, and the Abu Dhabi Tour.
Last year, cycling’s hour-record holder, Bradley Wiggins, said it’s “horrible” racing in Qatar and no racer enjoys it.
Some observers have criticized races making a push into countries with poor human-rights records, such as Qatar.
Popular cycling blog Bike Snob NYC lashed out saying “cycling and ethical bankruptcy have always gone together.”
Qatar has experienced a low level of domestic dissent compared to its neighbors, but since its successful bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, it has become a focus of international criticism of the mistreatment of low-paid migrant workers. Despite this, Qatar has failed to enact meaningful reforms to its labor system, which continues to facilitate the trafficking and forced labor of workers. Qatar has enjoyed a reputation as a center for media freedom in the region, but a new cybercrime law poses a serious threat to freedom of expression.