Qatar, where homosexuality is a punishable offence, had been drawing concerns from several queer spectators right from the time when it was announced as the official host of this year’s FIFA World Cup. Now, even allies are being detained for wearing as much as a t-shirt printed with a rainbow flag on it.
American journalist Grant Wahl, a former Sports Illustrated writer who has recently been covering several stories on the ongoing World Cup on his Substack, was detained at the Al Rayyan stadium’s entry right before the match between USA and Wales. The reason? The LGBTQIA+ symbol on his clothes.
'Western values aren't universal': In the past few months, Qatari officials claimed that they would allow LGBTQIA+ fans to express themselves in matches but within limits. For instance, waving the rainbow flag was permitted in stadiums but not public displays of affection like kissing. But given that Wahl was detained for just a t-shirt, waving the rainbow flag might also just turn into a punishable offence later.
Even Wahl’s controversy is being addressed by similar opinions from Qatari men on the Internet. A prominent case in point would be this tweet by Twitter user @binnahar85 who took to social media to write,
FIFA is not even allowing “OneLove” armbands: While Wahl is a straight man, Qatari officials are ensuring that no queer iconography can also be displayed, irrespective of how the person might identify. On November 10, FIFA even threatened European team captains with automatic yellow cards for wearing an armband that simply said “OneLove”!
Hence, before the England vs Iran match, English captain Harry Kane had to go back, remove his armband, and don a FIFA-sanctioned one instead.
Wahl’s detaining and the armband rules violate the earlier assurances given by Qatari officials: From openly-gay Australian player Josh Cavallo explaining his fears of playing in Qatar to sports commentators and journalists boycotting the World Cup for the country’s human rights abuses, Qatar had been getting a lot of negative PR from queer fans of the game.
And FIFA’ s standing committees and the Qatari organisers have hardly issued any major statements to assure the safety of queer spectators and players.
This March, when England team manager Gareth Southgate called the World Cup a “great shame” for the queer concerns, Qatar World Cup CEO Nasser-al-Khater responded by saying that Southgate should choose his words carefully and must meet him personally to address these concerns. al-Khater added that Qatar is the safest country in the Middle-East to back his argument!
Previous instances of homophobia in Qatar World Cup: As people started visiting the country just a few weeks before the World Cup would kick off, FIFA came out with a list of 69 recommended hotels and stays. Out of the 69, 3 outrightly rejected the entry of same-sex couples while 20 allowed but on the condition of no public displays of affection.
If this weren’t enough, the ambassadors were also not shy of concealing their homophobia.
This is what former Qatari international footballer and World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman had to say in a recent interview with the German TV channel ZDF. Saying gay people have "defect minds (sic)", he added that homosexuality would not be tolerated in his country simply because it is a forbidden activity.
Meanwhile, if we shift the focus to a white man, the current FIFA President Gianni Infantino addressed the “Western moral concerns” as hypocritical and added that everyone will be welcome to the tournament (doesn’t seem like it in the first two days itself).
The cherry on the top was Infantino’s pre-tournament conference where for some bizarre reason he went on to say,
Ah, crisis averted!