Ten News Milestones on the Road to Qatar regarding LGBTIQ+ Human Rights

It’s been 12 years since FIFA announced Qatar as hosts of the 2022 Men’s World Cup. Here are key moments on the news timeline since then that relate to LGBTIQ+ human rights…

Sepp Blatter says gay fans ‘should refrain’ at 2022 World Cup in Qatar

The Guardian, December 2010

Within a fortnight of Qatar’s bid win, a smirking Sepp Blatter – then FIFA President – said that gay people should simply “refrain from any sexual activities” if going to Qatar.

Blatter was criticised by, among others, former NBA star John Amaechi who said: “With little more than an afterthought, FIFA has endorsed the marginalisation of LGBT people around the world.”

In 2013, Blatter brushed aside further questions about LGBT+ fans as the stuff of “ethics and morals”. Two years later, FIFA’s own Ethics Committee banned Blatter from football for various offences.

Then FIFA President Sepp Blatter, speaking in 2010 – not shown is a quip he made just moments before this recording, that gay fans who travel to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup should just “refrain from any sexual activities”

FIFA urged to pressure Russia and Qatar over anti-gay legislation

The Guardian, September 2013

An anti-discrimination taskforce set up by FIFA in 2012 urges world football’s governing body to step up calls for future World Cup host nations Russia and Qatar to relax their anti-gay laws.

“These are issues of civil rights,” says Fare director Piara Powar, a member of the taskforce. “Fans and players of all races, religions and sexuality need to feel comfortable going to the World Cups in both Russia and Qatar. It is going to be quite a challenge but we have to make sure that football becomes the vehicle for social change that we claim it is. This is a big issue.”

Gulf States’ ‘Gay Tests’ Trigger World Cup Boycott Call

International Business Times, October 2013

Controversy erupts after Kuwait’s director of public health says that the Gulf Co-operation Council – of which Qatar is a member – will add measures that seek to identify LGBT+ people to its routine screening of those entering GCC states.

The ‘gay test’ was set to be discussed further at a GCC meeting in Oman in November 2013 but was quietly dropped.

Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director, said: “It is an affront to the fundamental human right to privacy and underscores the continuing persecution of individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Qatar’s Sports Minister Can’t Promise Gay Fans or Beer Will Be Welcome at the World Cup

Associated Press (via Skift.com), November 2014

Qatar’s sports minister Salah bin Ghanem bin Nasser al-Ali says that with sales of alcohol strictly limited and regulated in the 2022 World Cup host nation, and with Budweiser a main tournament sponsor, “creative solutions” are needed if beer is to be made available to visiting fans.

Then, when asked if gay people will be welcome to attend the tournament, he tells AP reporters John Leicester and Rob Harris: “It’s exactly like the alcohol question… We are studying all these issues.

“We can adapt, we can be creative to have people coming and enjoying the games without losing the essence of our culture and respecting the preference of the people coming here. I think there is a lot we can do.”

Al-Ali receives criticism for equating the respect of LGBTIQ+ human rights with the accommodation of a corporate sponsor.

Gay Qatari’s article provokes backlash over World Cup ‘values’

Reuters, August 2016

A few weeks after the mass shooting at gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando in the US, English language outlet Doha News publishes a blog by a Qatari citizen identified only as ‘Majid’ titled ‘What it’s like to be gay and Qatari’.

Majid describes his despair at seeing online reactions of many of his countryfolk to the shooting, with some having said the victims deserved to die because they are gay.

“It is very jarring living here,” he writes. “It is traumatising to see that you are the cause of your parents’ anguish, that you are shaming your family. It is a constant onslaught, and it is killing me. It has caused irreparable damage to my mental health.”

A backlash ensues within Qatar, and within days, Doha News publishes a blog in response titled ‘We do not tolerate homosexuality in Qatar’. The writer, Jassim Al Maadadi, says that in his view, homosexuality is “something psychological… it should be medically treated.”

The World Health Organisation declassified homosexuality as a psychological disorder in 1990.

Under World Cup spotlight, Qataris crack down on LGBT news coverage

ABC News, July 2018

The intense restrictions on media freedoms in Qatar came under scrutiny as it is discovered that coverage of LGBT+ issues in print editions of the International New York Times has been severely redacted.

Images of empty spaces in Doha editions published between April and June are shown, along with a note saying the articles had been “exceptionally removed”. It is later determined that eight of them were related to LGBT+ rights.

Minky Worden’s opinion article in the International New York Times in May 2018 was removed from the Doha edition

The issue is raised with FIFA by Human Rights Watch director Minky Worden, who is told by the human rights manager of world football’s governing body that while they are investigating the censorship, “Qatar as a host country is not subject to FIFA’s Statutes, nor is it bound by FIFA’s Human Rights Policy and related FIFA regulations.”

However, when pressed by ABC News, FIFA issues a statement affirming its commitment to press freedom as a “cornerstone of FIFA’s human rights efforts”.

Everyone welcome? Gay football fans prepare for Qatar

AFP (via rfi.fr), December 2019

The founder of Liverpool’s LGBT+ and allies fans group, Paul Amann, accepts an invitation from organisers of the FIFA Club World Cup to attend the tournament in Doha. He travels to the Gulf state with his husband.

Amann later writes of his experiences: “As far as being out, as visitors it felt something akin to a don’t ask don’t tell era, although when meeting other staff from the SC [Supreme Committee], we were introduced as a married couple. As guests in Qatar we felt welcomed by our hosts, but we felt the need to exercise discretion in deference to them. Overall we felt safe as gay men.”

In an interview with CNN in 2021, Amann says their visit was “an exercise in self-censorship… goodness knows what it’s like to be born in Qatar and be LGBT+. It’s a real worry that football can be handed over to a country that doesn’t respect all human rights.”

Qatar to allow rainbow flags at 2022 World Cup

Associated Press, December 2020

For the first time, a senior FIFA official gives an assurance that visible signs of LGBTQ+ inclusion will be permitted at Qatar 2022.

“We will see a progressive change… rainbow flags, T-shirts will all be welcome in the stadium – that’s a given,” says Joyce Cook, in her then role as FIFA chief social responsibility and education officer. “They [the Supreme Committee] understand very well that is our stance.”

SC chief executive Nasser Al-Khater responds as follows: “When it comes to the rainbow flags in the stadiums, FIFA have their own guidelines, they have their rules and regulations. Whatever they may be, we will respect them.”

English FA inclusion advisory board member Chris Paouros highlights a problem with this approach. “It’s great for us to be able to go and put our flags up in the stadium… but ultimately we do this work because we want to make sure that everybody can be free to be who they are. If you’re a Qatari and you’re not able to, then it just feels like window dressing.”

Rainbow flags may be confiscated to ‘protect’ World Cup fans, Qatar official says

Associated Press (via NBC News), April 2021

Within a few months of Joyce Cook making her comments to AP about Pride flags being welcome in stadiums, the official overseeing security for the tournament says they could in fact be confiscated.

Footage of then AP reporter Rob Harris interviewing Major General Abdulaziz Abdullah Al Ansari

“If he (a fan) raised the rainbow flag and I took it from him, it’s not because I really want to, really, take it, to really insult him, but to protect him,” says Major General Abdulaziz Abdullah Al Ansari. “Because if it’s not me, somebody else around him might attack (him) … I cannot guarantee the behavior of the whole people. And I will tell him: ‘Please, no need to really raise that flag at this point.’”

Paouros says Al Ansari’s comments are “concering to say the least”, while Fare’s Piara Powar adds: “The idea that the flag, which is now a recognized universal symbol of diversity and equality, will be removed from people to protect them will not be considered acceptable, and will be seen as a pretext.”

Queers in Qatar – red card instead of rainbow

RTL Sport, June 2022

In August and October 2021 respectively, feature articles by David Harding for The Independent and by Ian Gallagher for The Mail on Sunday shine a light on the plight of LGBTQ+ people living in Qatar.

Then in Pride Month 2022, German broadcaster RTL Sport releases a short documentary film featuring LGBTQ+ Qataris whose identities have been disguised for their own safety.

RTL Sport published a version of their documentary with English subtitles on YouTube

A 32-year-old gay man called ‘Mohammed’ tells reporter Jonas Gerdes about the heavy burden that people like him are forced to carry in the Gulf state, where the threat of humiliation, violence and imprisonment for being LGBTQ+ is ever present.

“We have existential fear of punishment and death. Society and the government fight us in very different ways. The police can theoretically show up at any time and take you to a secret place. They can use psychological and physical torture if they want to.”

Later in the film, Gerdes talks to a trans woman from Qatar – her identity also hidden – who has been arrested on multiple occasions by the Gulf state’s police. “Anything can be illegal if they want it to be,” she explains.

The documentary includes interviews with campaigner Dr Nas Mohamed and also FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who tells Gerdes that “football has to be in the forefront… we have to open the world”.