Qatar has taken center stage in the sports world in recent weeks as it welcomed soccer fans for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. While the opening rounds of the tournament have been filled with drama that make sports great, off-field issues have proven to be dramatic in ways that no one enjoys watching. One of the issues getting the most attention during the tournament has been the representation (or lack thereof) of acceptance of the LGBTQ community in the country.
Going into the tournament, headlines were already being made about the country’s handling of LGBTQ issues. Early in November, Qatar FIFA World Cup Ambassador Khalid Salman raised eyebrows in an interview with German broadcaster ZDF, saying that homosexuality was “damage in the mind.” It drew sharp criticism from the LGBTQ community, including Rasha Younes, who took to Twitter to call the remarks “harmful” and “unacceptable.”
#Qatar #WorldCup ambassador's suggestion that same-sex attraction is “damage in the mind” is harmful and unacceptable. The Qatari government's failure to counter this false information has a significant impact on the lives of Qatar's #LGBT residents.https://t.co/jvTjDYwGAc— Rasha Younes (@Rasha__Younes) November 8, 2022
The Senior LGBT Rights Researcher at Human Rights Watch added “The Qatari government's failure to counter this false information has a significant impact on the lives of Qatar's LGBT residents.” If Qatari officials were hoping that once the tournament started, any off-field distractions in regards to the LGBTQ community or other human rights issues would go away, they have not gotten what they were looking for.
As the World Cup approached, soccer players from around the globe planned on ways to show their support to the LGBTQ community during the tournament.
Just before the tournament, English captain Harry Kane and the captain from Wales Gareth Bale announced their intentions to wear “OneLove” rainbow armbands during their matches in Qatar. The announcement was directly defying FIFA rules on what can be worn during a match, and also going against the association’s plan to bring awareness to multiple social issues during the tournament.
The Guardian reports that the move came after multiple countries made requests to FIFA about wearing rainbow armbands in the tournament, with no response ever coming from the global soccer organization. Then, FIFA announced their own social campaign for the tournament just days before it began, and it covered issues such as global hunger, world peace, and education for all. Not among the issues was LGBTQ rights.
Iran stand with protesters as England and Wales bow to Fifa over armbands https://t.co/V4wdAon6zx— The Guardian (@guardian) November 21, 2022
When asked why FIFA had not supported the rainbow armbands, association president Gianni Infantino said,
“We have clear regulations on armbands. We have and engage in campaigns on different topics, campaigns which are universal. We need to find topics that everyone can adhere to. This is an important element for us.”
It should be noted that same-sex relationships are illegal in Qatar, and can be punishable by prison time. With Qatar as the host country and not likely to support a campaign to promote LGBTQ rights, that can be seen as another reason FIFA did not include the issue in its social campaign for the tournament, whether you agree with their decision or not.
Players have not been the only ones dealing with harassment for supporting LGBTQ issues in Qatar. A reporter from Denmark shared the story of American Brian Davis, who got thrown out of the U.S. vs. Iran matchup for wearing a rainbow-colored armband.
“They twisted my arm and were very aggressive” US citizen Brian Davis tells us after got thrown out from #USAvIRN match by Qatari Police a few moments ago because he was wearing a rainbow colored armband. pic.twitter.com/q4aBMLySbz— Rasmus Tantholdt TV2 (@RasmusTantholdt) November 29, 2022
Davis said security had let him into the stadium and told him the armband was not an issue when he entered. But once he had taken his seat, guards confronted him about the armband. He said the guards “twisted his arm” and “were very aggressive” as he was escorted out of the stadium. Davis, however, was later allowed back to his seat. The incident is one of multiple similar instances involving LGBTQ support that drew the ire of security at World Cup matches since the tournament began just before Thanksgiving.
Qatar has been in enormous spotlight with the World Cup being hosted in the country this year. With a big spotlight, comes a big microscope. The issues the country has have been heavily scrutinized since they were announced as the hosts of this year’s tournament back in 2010. While then FIFA President Sepp Blatter supported the decision to take the cup to Qatar, he has since changed his tune. He recently told Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger,
“Qatar is a mistake, the choice was bad. It is too small of a country. Football and the World Cup are too big for it.”
The organization has since changed its criteria for selecting host countries for the games, putting more emphasis on human rights and social considerations. But for this tournament, a chance for a small country in the Middle East to showcase its development, Qatar has shown its handling of mainstream social issues are still behind the times.