Parliament authorises president to fly to Qatar for World Cup match
President Marcelo just wants to support the national team. Image: JOSÉ SENA GOULÃO/LUSA

Parliament authorises president to fly to Qatar for World Cup match

‘Much Ado About Nothing’… “Portugal’s latest psychodrama”

Portugal’s parliament on Tuesday has today formally authorised a trip by the country’s president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, to Qatar on Thursday to attend the first game of the national men’s football team in the World Cup finals.

As media clamour over the championships fill column inches globally, this was always going to be a ‘non-story story’.

Marcelo has been the butt of various jokes since saying last week: “Qatar does not respect human rights (…) All the building of the stadiums and so on… but anyway, let’s forget this. It can be criticised, but let’s focus on the team…”

Satirical show “Isto é Gozar com quem trabalha” had a field day last Sunday with the head of State’s surprising treatment of the subject – managing to dredge up a speech from the past in which he appeared far more concerned with human rights.

But that was before football came into the mix. 

Certainly the Socialist Party, main opposition PSD and even PCP communists see no problem with putting football ahead of human rights.

Voting today was carried by all three, while CHEGA (the country’s so-called third political force) abstained, and Bloco de Esquerda, PAN and LIVRE all voted against.

Several PSD MPs – most notably Isabel Moreira, Carla Miranda and Pedro Delgado Alves – voted against the resolution, while others – Hugo Carneiro, António Topa Gomes and Fátima Ramos, as well as Socialists Alexandra Leitão, Maria João Castro, Miguel Rodrigues and Eduardo Alves abstained.

Under the terms of Portugal’s Constitution, no head of State can leave the country without the assent of parliament.

In a letter addressed to the speaker, requesting to make the trip between Wednesday and Friday, Marcelo said he might also travel via Cairo in order to take part in a conference on the ‘Future of Quality Education’.

In the text, the president stated that “the participation of the highest figures of the State in the games of the Portuguese national team” has already been agreed, with the speaker of parliament, Augusto Santos Silva, scheduled to attend Portugal’s second game (on November 28) and prime minister, António Costa, scheduled for the third (on December 2).

Following public mutterings over his first reference to human rights abuses in Qatar, the president did infer last Friday, in Fátima, that he ‘intended to talk about human rights’ at some point, possibly in the near future.

He insisted that senior Portuguese officials will be in Qatar supporting the national team “not the violations of human rights or discrimination against women that are rife there”.

“The World Cup is there (in Qatar) and when we go there we will certainly not support the Qatari regime, the violation of human rights in Qatar and the discrimination against women in Qatar (…) When we go there, we are going to support the national team, the team of all the Portuguese, the team that bears the flag,” he said.

Commenting on all the soundbites, tabloid Correio da Manhã has called them a “psychodrama with little substance” – an episode, like so many before, that “marks national life (momentarily) and then disappears”.

As the paper explains, “as if the visit by the President to see a football game could minimally change everything that is sordid behind this football tournament… 

“Marcelo is going to watch the game, and he does so very well because now is not the moment for complaints about human rights to have any effect”.

The paper also refers to (the little known) fact that Qatar was accepted as an ‘observer country’ associated to the CPLP (the community of Portuguese speaking countries) last year. No-one seemed uncomfortable about the country then, remarks leader writer Carlos Rodrigues.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com