World Cup host country Qatar says everyone is welcome, but some LGBTQ fans stay away

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“I am a man and I love men. Me, please, don’t be surprised, I have sex with other men. This is normal. So please get used to it or stay away from football.”

Dario Minden was a relatively unknown German soccer fan before a video of a powerful speech he delivered was widely shared on social networks in September.

For most of the 15-minute talk, he spoke in his native German before switching to English, a switch he made deliberately, he says, for impact. She wanted the world to hear.

Looking directly at Qatar’s ambassador to Germany, Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Saud al-Thani, in a room full of dignitaries and patrons at a human rights conference in Frankfurt, organized by the German Football Association, he delivered his shocking words. Sitting in the front row, the camera briefly pans over to al-Thani, showing him watching and listening to Minden.

“Soccer is for everyone,” Minden continued. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a lesbian, if you’re gay, it’s for everyone. For the boys, for the girls and for everyone in between… The rule that football is for everyone is very important. We can’t let you break it no matter how rich you are. You are more than welcome to join the international football community and of course also to organize a great tournament. But in sports, it is how it is. You have to accept the rules.”

As Minden finishes, some applause can be heard from some audience members.

That she loves men and has sex with men is not a problem in her homeland, but it is in Qatar, a country that from Sunday will host the month-long World Cup, one of the largest and most lucrative sporting events.

Visitors gather at the FIFA World Cup countdown clock in Doha on October 30, 2022.

As the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East, it is certainly a historic event, but it is also marred by controversy, over the deaths of migrant workers and the conditions many have endured while the Gulf state He was preparing for the tournament. LGBTQ and women’s rights.

Homosexuality in Qatar is illegal and is punishable by up to three years in prison. A Human Rights Watch report, posted last month As recently as September, cases were documented in which Qatari security forces arbitrarily arrested LGBT people and subjected them to “ill-treatment in custody”.

Speaking to CNN, Minden said he would not go to Qatar and would not watch the competition on television.

“When we talk about the LGBTQ+ rights situation, we mean not only football tourists, but also the situation before and especially after the World Cup,” he said.

After the conference, Minden said he spoke privately with the ambassador, who told him everyone was welcome in Qatar. But Minden told CNN: “It’s not safe and it’s not okay.”

A Qatari government official told CNN in a statement that the host of the World Cup was an inclusive country. “Everyone is welcome in Qatar,” the statement read, adding: “Our track record has shown that we have warmly welcomed all people, regardless of background.”

Measures were being implemented to ensure that no discrimination of any kind took place, such as human rights training with public and private security forces, and the promulgation of legal provisions for the protection of all, according to FIFA.

A statement sent to CNN on behalf of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC) which, since its formation in 2011, has been responsible for overseeing infrastructure projects and World Cup planning , said he was committed to “an inclusive event and World Cup free of discrimination,” pointing to the fact that the country, he said, had hosted hundreds of international and regional sporting events since it was awarded the World Cup in 2010.

“There has never been a problem and each event has been delivered safely,” the statement read.

“Everyone is welcome in Qatar, but we are a conservative country and any public display of affection, regardless of orientation, is frowned upon. We just ask that people respect our culture.”

But there have been mixed messages with a World Cup ambassador and former footballer. Khalid Salman saying earlier this month that homosexuality was “mental damage”, in an interview with German broadcaster ZDF.

When CNN asked any member of the LGBTQ community traveling to Qatar for their advice, FIFA referred to a recent public statement made by Fatma Samoura, the secretary general of the governing body, who said: “It doesn’t matter your race, your religion , your social and sexual orientation, you are welcome, and the Qataris are ready to receive you with the best hospitality you can imagine.”

But for the Englishman Rob Sanderson, respect for cultures is a “two-way street”.

Sanderson is a Special Projects Officer for pride in football a network of UK LGBTQ fan groups and one of the support groups that joined forces in a open letter to condemn both FIFA and the Supreme Committee, refuting the world governing body’s and Qatar’s claims that it would be a World Cup for all.

He is a regular at England internationals and was once the victim of a homophobic assault, he says, at Wembley four years ago, before England’s game against Spain in 2018, when he got into an altercation with another fan. The incident was reported to the police and investigated, he says, but there was “not enough evidence” to proceed, he says. But, to a large extent, he has felt accepted at England games, where he and his friends fly pride flags celebrating their community and team.

However, he will not be going to Qatar and says that if England were to win the tournament it would be a tarnished trophy.

“I am not comfortable traveling to Qatar and being visible in any way because if I visibly show that I am an LGBT+ football fan, all I do is draw a goal on the back of a local who is anything. apart from being hostile towards me,” the 34-year-old told CNN.

“I don’t feel comfortable being used as an excuse for any hostility that may arise after the tournament. It doesn’t suit me.”

Qatar is not the first controversial host of a major sporting event, or even a FIFA World Cup. The last edition was held in Russia, a country that introduced laws in 2013 that prohibited the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations”.

In the build up to the 2018 tournament, the UK Foreign Office warned of a “high risks” to members of the LGBT community traveling to Russia.

But while some members of Pride in Football did go to Russia, Sanderson says, feeling it was safe as Russian society had previously accepted, in the post-Soviet, pre-Putin era, same-sex relationships, none of its members are going to go to Qatar . “It’s a totally different environment,” he said.

“They said ‘everyone is welcome’, but they signed that line saying ‘you must respect our culture’.”

It has been widely reported that FIFA has urged nations participating in the World Cup to focus on soccer when the tournament kicks off on Sunday.

FIFA confirmed to CNN that a letter signed by FIFA President Gianni Infantino and Samoura was sent to the 32 participating nations, but would not divulge the content.

A joint statement issued earlier this month by supporter groups Pride in Football, The Rainbow Wall and Three Lions Pride said: “Let’s be clear, talking about human rights is not ideological or political. It’s just asking for decency and the ability for people to watch their teams without fear of abuse.”

Several European federations also issued a statement saying they would continue to campaign at the tournament on issues of human rights and compensation for migrant workers.

The Team USA logo is displayed in a room used for briefings during a training session at the team's training camp in Doha ahead of Qatar 2022.

Gareth Bale, once the world’s most expensive footballer and Wales captain, will wear a OneLove armband during matches in Qatar in support of a all season campaign that promotes diversity and inclusion. Wales is one of eight European World Cup participating countries to support the initiative.

Speaking to reporters before traveling to Qatar, the former Real Madrid player said: “We can shed light on the problems that are going on.”

However, Hugo Lloris, captain of France, another team participating in the OneLove campaign, said on Monday that he had to “show respect” for Qatar’s culture when asked by reporters about wearing a rainbow armband.

“In France, when we welcome foreigners, we often want them to follow our rules and respect our culture, and I will do the same when I go to Qatar,” he said.

England flew to Qatar on Tuesday in a plane dubbed the “Rain Bow” and the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) displays a rainbow logo at the team’s training facility in Doha. Speaking to reporters, head coach Gregg Berhalter said: “We recognize that Qatar have come a long way and there has been a lot of progress, but there is still work to be done.”

The closer we get to the start of the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador on November 20, the more dissenting voices louder Signs of support for LGBTQ issues are becoming more visible.

The World Cup, like the Olympic Games, puts the host country in the global spotlight. Usually, most controversies are forgotten once the sport begins, but such has been the intensity of the focus on Qatar’s human rights record that it would be surprising if it were all forgotten before kick-off on Sunday. Next month’s headlines are unlikely to be solely about soccer.

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