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LGBTQ rights and the Qatar World Cup

3 min read

The Qatar World Cup raises a question of how the Football Association can reconcile championing LGBTQ rights with participation in a tournament where homosexuality is illegal.

The decision to stage the FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar has raised eyebrows for several reasons. The tournament is being played in the winter for the first time because it is too hot in the summer and concerns have been raised about the poor conditions of the migrant workers who built the stadiums amid questions over Qatar’s human rights record.

One key question for the Football Association is how to reconcile its efforts to make football more inclusive and open to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups in England while also participating in a tournament hosted by a country where homosexuality is criminalised.

“At a time when our rights are under threat across the globe, we need national football bodies and non-governing bodies – including the FA – to speak up in support of global LGBTQ+ rights and call for greater protections everywhere,” Liz Ward, director of programmes at the LGBTQ rights charity Stonewall, told The House.

Concerns have been raised about the safety of LGBTQ fans who want to travel to Qatar.

Concerns have been raised about the safety of LGBTQ fans who want to travel to Qatar. England manager Gareth Southgate has said it was a “great shame” some fans would not travel because of the country’s approach to rights of women and the LGBTQ community.

Australian footballer Josh Cavallo, who became the first top-flight player to come out as gay last year, told Sky News in June that he would have “serious worries” playing in Qatar, but acknowledged he would go if selected.

Felix Jakens, head of priority campaigns and individuals at risk at Amnesty International UK, told The House that the FA had been “far too slow” to say anything of value on the issue, and the England management and team should “always stand up for human rights”. While the jury was out over whether boycotts of sporting events achieved anything, Amnesty did not generally advocate them, he added.

The FA has worked to champion LGBTQ rights in football in recent years. In 2018, it teamed up with Stonewall on a campaign called “Come Out For LGBT” and pledged to identify boundaries in football for LGBTQ players and to tackle homophobic, bi-phobic and transphobic language and behaviour by spectators, players, coaches or other participants.

In a statement, the FA said that “all fans, including those from LGBTQ+ communities, will be welcome at Qatar 2022” and that the safety and security of fans was the host country’s priority.

A spokesperson for FIFA – the world governing body – said it had also been working with Qatar to ensure the protection of LGBTQ+ fans.

“This includes legislative protections in place for the FIFA World Cup, which reflect FIFA’s requirements to all its tournament hosts on the matter, namely to ensure the safety and security of everyone, including protection from aggressions of a discriminatory nature,” the spokesperson said.

While the FA has said it would work with authorities in Qatar to ensure the World Cup is free of discrimination, it may fall to the England players to be more forthright, taking a lead from recent high-profile campaigns by footballers, including Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford on child hunger and Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling on racism.

England captain Harry Kane – who wore a rainbow armband in the Euros tournament last year – said in March that national team players had discussed human rights issues in Qatar and reports that some fans may not travel because of safety fears.

“All we can do, and me as a captain, is try to shine a light on those issues,” he said.


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