Secretary of State Anthony Blinken landed in Doha, Qatar, Monday morning ahead of the U.S. Men’s National Team’s opening World Cup match against Wales.
Blinken was also set to attend the fifth annual U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue and meet with the country’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.
“The United States is committed to our long-standing friendship and strong partnership with Qatar,” Blinken tweeted before taking off Sunday night.
Blinken kicked off his visit with an event with youth soccer players as part of the Generation Amazing Festival 2022.
“One of the things that we do is we engage in what we call sports diplomacy. We use sports as a way of connecting people, connecting people to our country,” Blinken said.
"I am a lifelong lover of football – a very mediocre player, but a lover of the sport. And the thing that’s so powerful about it is everywhere that I go in the world, I find other people who love the game," said Blinken. "It’s an incredibly powerful way of bringing people together."
Blinken was joined at the event by Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, Canadian Development Minister Harjit Sajjan and Hasan Al Thawadi, head of the committee that organized the World Cup in Qatar.
Qatar has come under heavy criticism for a range of human rights abuses in the lead-up to the World Cup, ranging from its draconian treatment of migrant laborers to the criminalization of homosexuality, which is punishable by up to three years in prison.
Human rights groups have called for countries including the U.S. not to send high-ranking officials due to those abuses. However, international criticism has been muted and FIFA, the world governing body mired in recent corruption scandals, has staunchly defended the host country.
On Monday, seven European teams competing at the FIFA World Cup scrapped plans to wear rainbow-printed armbands in support of LGBTQ rights, citing threats from FIFA to impose sanctions if the players went through with sporting the accessory.
During his meeting with Qatari officials, Blinken is planning to “discuss a range of priorities, including global health, humanitarian assistance, international development, labor and human rights, security cooperation, climate change, and trade and investment,” according to the State Department.
The US team played to a 1-1 draw with Wales in Monday’s match.