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LGBTQIA+ Rights in the Shadow of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar

By Mia Jin Haagensli, MSc Politics of the Middle East

The long-awaited 2022 World Cup just kicked off in Qatar, and football fans all over the world are ready for a month of intense games associated with excitement, pride, and a sense of belonging. For many, the month-long cup serves as an occasion for gathering. However, with this year´s cup comes a strong feeling of ambivalence for the sport´s many LGBTQIA+ supporters. Despite the FIFA ban of LGBTQIA+ discrimination, the adoption of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in 2016 and the recent celebration of Pride, and also despite a Qatar government official stating that ‘everyone is welcome in Qatar,’ it is an inevitable fact that homosexuality is illegal in the country hosting this year´s World Cup.

The Federation Internationale de Football Association, vernacularly known as FIFA, has received massive criticism for its choice of Qatar as the host country of the 2022 World Cup. Ever since it was made official in 2010 that Qatar won the World Cup bid for 2022, marking the very first time the prestigious cup is to be hosted in the Middle East, criticisms started flowing in. Countries, particularly Western countries, raised questions and concerns with regards to Qatar´s known history of human rights breaches. Accompanying the criticism connected to the violation of LGBTQIA+ rights are claims of corruption and sports washing as well as critiques connected to the mistreatment of, and inhumane conditions for, Qatar´s migrant workers – which, according to numbers published in the Guardian in 2021, has officially resulted in the deaths of 37 workers directly linked to the building of infrastructure for the World Cup and over 6,500 workers ever since it was made official that the Gulf state was to host the event. In other words, the criticism linked to LGBTQIA+ rights falling in the shadow of the cup is one of many controversies connected to Qatar. 

What may seem an everlasting fight for the introduction and acknowledgement of LGBTQIA+ rights everywhere has received increased attention and coverage globally over the years. One can argue that it is a big step back, having the most lucrative, sought-after event within the field of football being hosted in a country denying LGBTQIA+ persons their rights. With Khalid Salman, one of FIFA´s 2022 World Cup Ambassadors, referring to homosexuality as ´haram´ and as ´damage in the mind´, the actual weight of the statement that ´everyone is welcome in Qatar´ has come into question.

With the 2004 implementation of laws incriminating acts of homosexuality in Qatar serving as the backdrop, claims have been made that football is leaving behind its LGBTQIA+ supporters. With the laws facilitating the sentencing of LGBTQIA+ persons for up to seven years, many football fans have stated that they do not feel comfortable, excited, or even safe engaging with the ongoing tournament. The risk of ending up in prison is a moral dilemma for many LGBTQIA+ football fans. Thus, a large number of them have decided to skip (either by not attending or by not even watching it on television) the World Cup in fear of being met with hostility, abuse, and violence. On a similar note, multiple pubs, bars, restaurants and various other venues over the world have decided not to screen the World Cup in solidarity with LGBTQIA+ people – as one statement by a director of Pride in Birmingham went, ´our community matters more than making money.´

“The risks faced by LGBTQIA+ people from all over the world with regards to this year’s World Cup are great, but the risks the local community are faced with are even greater.”

It is crucial to emphasise that Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup has posed a problem not only for LGBTQIA+ persons coming to the country to attend the cup or for those watching it from home or elsewhere in the world. It is also an issue for Qatari LGBTQIA+ people and residents of Qatar in general. According to Human Rights Watch, residents of Qatar may face the risk of persecution if they openly show support for gay rights during the cup. Showing support can be acts as small as engaging in songs or chants or even sharing or liking LGBTQIA+ content on social media. By using methods of surveillance, the possibility of LGBTQIA+ people and the people supporting them being mistreated and persecuted ´will remain long after the fans have gone.´ In fact, targeting, persecutions, human rights violations, and discrimination from the state happening in the wake of the World Cup may happen in ways ´we may not have access to.´ The risks faced by LGBTQIA+ people from all over the world with regards to this year’s World Cup are great, but the risks the local community are faced with are even greater.

Lastly, with FIFA allegedly having urged the participating nations of the World Cup to focus on football, which may seem a way of saying not to mix the sport with politics, it is important to emphasise that, as a member of the LGBTQIA+ football club Birmingham Blaze stated, ´football doesn’t exist in a vacuum.´ As has been proven time and time again over the years in line with the World Cup, the structures of football affect real people and their lives. Thus, shedding a light on the matter of gay rights falling in the shadow of the World Cup in Qatar seems inevitable.

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