The FA has said Qatar won’t prosecute LGBTQ+ people for holding hands. (Getty/PinkNews)
The Football Association’s (FA) assurances that LGBTQ+ people won’t be prosecuted at the Qatar World Cup won’t be enough to ease queer people’s concerns, football fans have said.
The World Cup is set to be staged in Qatar in November, but many LGBTQ+ people are worried about attending the event because of the country’s homophobic and transphobic laws.
FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said it had received assurances from Qatari officials that LGBTQ+ people won’t be prosecuted for holding hands at the World Cup – but football fans have said it’s not enough unless it comes directly from Qatar.
“There is no weight behind this statement because it’s hearsay. That doesn’t help if the worst situation happens and someone gets arrested,” Joe White, co-chair of Pride in Football, tells PinkNews.
“To a Qatari police officer or to anyone dealing with that, they’re not going to care what the English FA is saying.”
Joe had tickets to go to the World Cup but they ultimately decided not to attend because they felt that visiting Qatar would force them back into the closet while they were there.
Joe says it’s “really important” that the Qatari government go on the record and explain what is and is not considered an offence for LGBTQ+ football fans visiting the country.
“Until it’s put down and stated as an official position, it coming from the English FA doesn’t particularly help.”
LGBTQ+ football fans still in the dark
In general, Joe says the FA and FIFA have failed to adequately deal with LGBTQ+ people’s concerns about the event being held in a country where homosexuality is criminalised.
Many would feel unsafe travelling to Qatar out of fear they could face persecution because of their sexuality or gender identity.
Joe is particularly concerned about trans people’s safety at the World Cup – they’re worried security checks at the event will be divided along gender lines, which could force trans and non-binary people into potentially dangerous or uncomfortable positions.
“It will be primarily split into male and female queues – that can present a difficult situation particularly for trans women or anyone who doesn’t necessarily pass, or is like myself non-binary and a bit fluid with their gender.”
Pride in Football and other LGBTQ+ sporting bodies have been asking FIFA “for probably a year now” for assurances on how security checks will be handled “sensitively” at the World Cup.
“We haven’t had any answers – it’s just ‘everything will be fine, this is a World Cup for all,’ Joe says.
“We have set out these points privately, we’ve tried to engage on a number of occasions, and it very much feels like the approach was ‘run down the clock so we don’t have to deal with it.’”
‘FIFA needs to learn from this experience’
“It’s now time for them to support us in making sure that football is a place for everyone, that the next time someone says ‘this is a World Cup for all’, that it isn’t just a PR line and that it’s a reality.”
According to Joe, many LGBTQ+ people will be skipping the World Cup because they won’t feel safe. Many have been discouraged from travelling to Qatar by concerned family and friends.
“Frankly FIFA needs to learn from this experience and make sure they are working on this as soon as they know who are hosting,” Joe says.
“They’ve had 10 years since Qatar were announced as hosts and they’ve still not gotten anywhere.”
Qatar’s assurances a ‘money-grabbing move’
Like many other LGBTQ+ football fans, Jack Duncan was disappointed by Qatar’s assurances that LGBTQ+ people won’t be prosecuted for holding hands.
His first reaction was to “scoff” when he read Bullingham’s statement – he believes Qatar is only promising it won’t prosecute LGBTQ+ people so it can “play well to the international crowd for the purposes of tourism”, which will ultimately help it bring in more money.
“It’s clearly just a money-grabbing move and just goes to show that if they wanted to change things they could do it overnight,” Jack says.
‘Is it enough? Not even close’
Jack also points out, if Bullingham’s assurances are to be believed, nothing will be done to benefit LGBTQ+ Qataris – homosexuality will continue to be criminalised after the World Cup.
In short, nothing will have changed.
“Frankly, is it enough? Not even close. It’s disgusting and it just further highlights the hypocrisy of it all.”
PinkNews has contacted FIFA and the FA for comment.
The decision to host the World Cup in Qatar has been generating controversy for some time because of the country’s poor track record on LGBTQ+ rights.
Homosexuality is illegal in the country, and queer people could face up to three years in prison plus a fine if convicted. Sharia law may also be applied to some Muslims, which imposes the death penalty for homosexuality.
The country also has a history of punishing tourists who visit the country – in 1998, an American was sentenced to six months in prison and given 90 lashes for engaging in homosexual activity in Qatar.
When Qatar was announced as the host of the 2022 World Cup, alarm bells immediately sounded for LGBTQ+ people. Since then, queer activists have been calling on FIFA to ensure the safety of queer football fans who travel to the country – but many have been left disappointed by the response from Qatar.
As the event has drawn nearer, the controversy has only intensified. There was significant backlash when it was suggested that Pride flags could be confiscated at the World Cup to protect people’s safety, while the Football Association of Wales has previously warned LGBTQ+ people to avoid “provocation” at the event.
With the World Cup just two months away, LGBTQ+ football fans planning on travelling to Qatar are still waiting on firm assurances from Qatari officials that they will be fully protected under the law.
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