Members of the LGBTQ community are fearful they could be arrested and even imprisoned if they kiss while attending the World Cup later this month in Qatar, a particularly problematic venue for the typically bacchanalian sports event chosen after a massive bribe scandal.
The British are so worried about potential problems they are dispatching a crew of special “engagement officers” to protect fans from zealot police in Qatar.
Homosexuality is illegal in the country, and can be punishable by death, according to Human Dignity Trust, a global advocacy group for LGBTQ rights.
But public displays of affection are frowned on even for people who are heterosexual, and women are expected to dress modestly, and be in the company of husbands, not boyfriends. Women who go to police over sexual violence can be flogged for engaging in illegal sex, according to news reports.
Alcohol consumption is restricted in Qatar, significantly affecting yet another aspect of a typical World Cup fan experience.
Limited drinking will be allowed in some areas during the World Cup. But fans are strictly prohibited from bringing alcohol into the country. “Specific measures” are in place to take action against anyone attempting to smuggle liquor in their luggage, ESPN reported.
A Qatari official recently offered few reassurances for the European LGBTQ community. While “holding hands” may be permitted in public, Qatar’s Ambassador to the U.K. Fahad bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah could not guarantee in a Times of London radio interview that anything more would be acceptable.
“I think one has to be mindful of the norms and cultures of Qatari society,” he warned, and erroneously suggested that public displays of affection are also illegal in Britain.
Conservative U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly triggered a massive blowback last month after telling soccer fans to “be respectful” of Qatar’s anti-LGBTQ culture if they attend the World Cup. A spokesperson for new U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak angrily responded that no fan should be expected to “compromise who they are.”
Most involved European officials have attempted to convince Qatari law enforcement to put up with their typical fan behavior, including climbing on tables, draping flags over statues and singing “loud songs in public” without arrests, according to a summary of agreements viewed by The Guardian.
LGBTQ fans are also supposed to be allowed to wave Pride flags in public. But what happens in actual practice with some one million fans expected remains to be seen.
An official from Qatar’s Government Communications Office told NBC News last month that fans will be “free to express themselves” — but will also be expected to “respect the local values and culture.”
The massive culture clash is a major indication of the problematic choice of Qatar to host the World Cup after bribes were paid to officials of soccer’s international governing body FIFA.
The nation had no soccer legacy when it was chosen in 2010, no stadiums that could host international-level matches, and weather so hot during the typical time of the tournament that soccer league schedules around the world had to be upended to accommodate Qatar’s weather.
The most fundamental concerns involved rewarding a country with egregious human rights violations, particularly involving migrant workers, who make the nation run. Thousands of migrant workers have died in the last 10 years in Qatar, many of them in construction accidents — or due to heat exhaustion — on projects linked to the World Cup.
In a stunning example of authoritarian sexism in the nation, several women on a Qatar Airways flight headed to Sydney — including citizens from Australia, New Zealand and Britain — were pulled off the aircraft and subjected to forced vaginal exams at gunpoint in October 2020 after a newborn was found abandoned in the airport. Abandoned newborns are a problem in the country, which imprisons women who become pregnant out of wedlock.
Five Australian women are suing the airline and government over the forced searches.
Australia’s men’s soccer team, the Socceroos, issued a powerful video message last month condemning Qatar’s myriad human rights abuses ahead of the Cup. Other teams are expected to follow with a variety of protests.