As the World Cup in Qatar has come to a close, we are faced with the aftermath of human rights abuses that is far worse than we imagined – despite being largely preventable. For over two years, the LGBTIQ+ Human Rights Sports Coalition took part in a series of conversations with FIFA and the Qatar Supreme Committee on the issue of LGBTIQ+ rights ahead of the Men’s World Cup. There was an understanding that LGBTIQ+ rights in Qatar were non-existent in terms of government protection from violence and discrimination, and therefore could become a point of conflict during the Men’s World Cup. Agenda points for the coalition centered on both the experiences of LGBTIQ+ people visiting Qatar for the tournament, as well as the rights and the experiences of LGBTIQ+ people living in Qatar, as outlined in our Eight Measures of Action for FIFA and Qatar.
As the tournament progressed, it became apparent that state-sanctioned violence and harassment against LGBTIQ+ people, together with the overall repression of civil society, would make it incredibly challenging to create a welcoming, safe and inclusive environment for any visitors, let alone allow for the development of a positive legacy for LGBTIQ+ Qataris and other populations impacted by the gross human rights violations that occurred both before and during the Men’s World Cup.
With the tournament now over, we are faced with a situation that is worse than we imagined. Homophobic incidents have been well-documented at this Men’s World Cup, with a range of homophobic acts playing out in full glare of publicity. LGBTIQ+ rights have been turned into a so-called culture war across global football and between the South West Asian/North Africa (SWANA) region and some Western countries, and FIFA did nothing to stop it.
A series of events unfolded in the days before the tournament which saw a controversy erupt between FIFA and a grouping of European FAs on the “One Love” armband. This continued with confiscations, strip-searches and harassment of supporters, members of the media and others displaying rainbow symbolism. Meanwhile, supporters from some countries have openly chanted homophobic abuse during the Men’s World Cup and social media has seen new and dangerous examples of rampant homophobia. In addition, we saw double standards upheld in which Argentinian Goalkeeper Emi Martinez made headlines with a lewd gesture involving the championship trophy, yet this total disrespect of Qatari customs and values did not receive any reaction from either Qatar or FIFA.
Prior to the tournament, FIFA and the Qatar Supreme Committee gave a series of verbal reassurances to the Coalition, to Football Associations, to journalists, sponsors and to governments, outlining the steps they would put in place to ensure all visitors would be safe and that symbols of LGBTIQ+ inclusion, such as the rainbow flag, were welcome. Those reassurances and promises have proven to be dangerously false.
As organizations working to ensure that football is safe and inclusive for all, we see the damage this Men’s World Cup has done in giving license to the worst sexist, homophobic and transphobic elements of football culture. FIFA not only failed to protect LGBTIQ+ people from harm but also directly facilitated that harm. FIFA must now make sure the harms that have been caused over the past month are urgently rectified, both in Qatar and in ensuring clear protections are in place for future events. We call on FIFA to immediately prioritize direct and meaningful engagement with LGBTIQ+ people worldwide, adhering closely to their human rights framework for the Women’s World Cup in 2023 and the Men’s World Cup in 2026, and to work with stakeholders from the international and regional LGBTIQ+ community to ensure the long-term safety of LGBTIQ+ persons. This will begin the gradual process of winning back the trust of LGBTIQ people, and all marginalized communities, and showing that human rights are universal, indivisible and intersecting and are a priority to FIFA. Nothing short of a sizeable and sustainable commitment will suffice.