Some LGBTQ fans skip Qatar World Cup, fearing hostility

At first, Saskia Niño de Rivera was excited to go to Qatar for a World Cup which would mark an important professional event for her partner, a sports agent for Mexican footballers. She even considered proposing privately there during a match and posting photos once they left the country.

But as the lesbian couple learned more about same-sex relationship laws in the conservative Gulf country, the plans no longer seemed like a good idea. Instead, Niño de Rivera proposed at an Amsterdam stadium this summer and opted to skip the World Cup altogether.

“As a lesbian, it’s really hard for me to feel and think that we’re going to a country where we don’t know what might happen and how we might be safe,” she said. “It was a really tough decision.”

Niño de Rivera’s concerns are shared by many LGBTQ football fans and their allies around the world. Some have pondered whether to attend the tournament or even watch it on TV.

Qatar’s laws against gay sex and the treatment of LGBTQ people are hot spots ahead of the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East or any Arab or Muslim country. Qatar said all were welcome, including LGBTQ fans, but visitors should respect the country’s culture, in which public displays of affection from anyone are frowned upon. As his country faces criticism on a number of issues, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, recently claimed that he “has been the subject of an unprecedented campaign”. which no host country had ever faced.

A World Cup ambassador to Qatar, however, described homosexuality as “mental damage” in an interview with German public broadcaster ZDF. Released this week, comments by former Qatari national team player Khalid Salman highlighted concerns over the conservative country’s treatment of gays and lesbians.

Some LGBTQ rights activists are seizing the moment to draw attention, with a heightened sense of urgency, to the conditions of LGBTQ citizens and residents in Qatar. They want to raise concerns about how these people might be treated after the tournament is over and the international spotlight has faded.

Dario Minden, who is from Germany, said he loves football but will not watch a single minute of the tournament as a show of solidarity with LGBTQ people in Qatar. Recently, he jumped at the chance to push for change.

At a human rights conference hosted by the German Football Association in Frankfurt, Minden told Qatar’s ambassador to Germany that Qatar should abolish its penalties for homosexuality.

“I happen to be a gay football fan and I thought it was a great opportunity to…speak in front of such a high representative, to connect the subject with a face,” Minden said in an interview.

Rasha Younes, senior researcher on LGBTQ rights in the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch, said that while Qatari officials have reassured LGBTQ fans, the possibility of stigma and discrimination persists in housing, l access to health care and the potential for safe reporting. sexual violence.

At the same time, she argued, “suggestions that Qatar should make an exception for foreigners are implicit reminders that Qatari authorities do not believe its LGBT residents deserve basic rights or exist,” adding that his organization was concerned about the conditions of local LGBTQ people, including after the tournament.

Qatari law provides for a prison term of one to three years for anyone who “incites” or “seduces” a man to “commit sodomy”, as well as for “inducing or seducing a man or woman in any way to commit illegal or sexual acts”. immoral actions.

As the World Cup approaches, Qatari security forces have been accused of mistreating LGBTQ people. In a statement, the Qatari government denied the allegations: “Qatar does not tolerate discrimination against anyone, and our policies and procedures are underpinned by a commitment to human rights for all.

Dr Nasser Mohamed, an openly gay Qatari activist who now lives in the United States, is among those who say international attention is disproportionately focused on visitors and not enough on LGBTQ people in Qatar. He came out publicly and lobbied to expand the conversation ahead of the World Cup.

“Being in a country that has no LGBT visibility, no conversations about what it’s like to be an LGBT person, made me feel like there was something wrong with me. “, he said in an interview. With the current intense public debates, “I feel like there’s an urgent moment to… put something out there now to let people know we’re not doing well.”

Josie Nixon of the You Can Play Project, which advocates for LGBTQ people in sport, said the group was part of a coalition of LGBTQ rights organizations that made demands of FIFA and Qatari organizers. These included repealing laws targeting LGBTQ people, providing “explicit safety guarantees” against harassment, arrest or detention, and working to ensure the long-term safety of LGBTQ people in the region.

“FIFA and Qatar have taken steps to ensure LGBTQ fans are safe, but is this enough to change the way Qatar views LGBTQ citizens?” said Nixon, who lives in Colorado. “My answer is no.”

Even before the tournament kicked off, questions about the legacy he would leave loomed amid intense international scrutiny of Qatar’s human rights record, including the treatment of migrant workers. As the World Cup approaches, Qatari officials seem increasingly frustrated, saying their country’s achievements and progress are being ignored and the attacks are raising questions about the motives behind them.

“Qatar strongly believes in the power of sport to bring people together and build bridges of cultural understanding,” the Qatari government said in a statement to The Associated Press in response to questions. “The World Cup can help change misconceptions, and we want fans to go home with a better understanding of our country, our culture and our region. We believe this tournament[…]can show that people of different nationalities, religions and backgrounds actually have more in common than they realize.

The statement added that Qatar is a country of “warm hospitality” and will continue to ensure the safety of all “regardless of their background”.

Senior FIFA officials have recently urged teams preparing for the World Cup to focus on football and avoid letting the game be drawn into ideological or political battles. Officials did not address or identify any specific issues in their message, which angered some human rights activists.

In a soccer-crazed Argentina, Juan Pablo Morino, president of the Gays Passionate About Soccer group, said he was appalled by FIFA’s decision to hold the World Cup in Qatar.

“When electing a host, the basic parameters of coexistence must be respected. It is not possible for a country to be a candidate,” he said.

In Mexico, Niño de Rivera said she would support her fiancée from afar, who will be entering the tournament for work. It makes her sad.

The decision not to participate in the World Cup “has to do with being true to your own values ​​and bringing a lot of money to a country where you are not welcome because of his sexual orientation,” she said. She was afraid that if they went there as a couple, they could have been harassed or worse while having dinner or returning to the hotel.

“The World Cup is normally an event that brings people together, where it doesn’t matter what part of the world you come from…what religion you have; it doesn’t matter what community you belong to,” she said. We all speak the same language, we all speak football.

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