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World Cup’s attempt to reassure LGBTQ fans they’ll be welcome in Qatar falls short

Despite reassurances that LGBTQ fans will be safe, Qatar’s strict anti-PDA policies do not create a welcoming environment.

Previews - FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2019
A scene from the media tour of World Cup Qatar 2022 host site Al Bayt Stadium
Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

For LGBTQ soccer fans looking to attend the 2022 World Cup, the host nation of Qatar has a message for you:

Gay fans are welcome. As long as you’re not... you know... too gay.

To understate the matter, Qatar and “gay friendly” traditionally go together about as well as the 2022 World Cup and “workplace safety.” Qatar’s national law criminalizes homosexuality with a penalty of one to three years imprisonment and in 2013, the World Cup host joined a number of Persian Gulf nations — the Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC — in introducing immigration tests that included “stricter measures to find out homosexuals and transgenders so that they are banned from entering... any GCC state.”

Knowing the country’s reputation, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Chief Executive Nasser al-Khater recently tried to reassure LGBTQ fans, looking to attend that tournament, that they would have nothing to worry about.

According to the AFP’s Gregory Walton, al-Khater proclaimed that “any fan of any gender, [sexual] orientation, religion, race [should] rest assured that Qatar is one of the most safe countries in the world — and they’ll all be welcome here.”

If he’d have stopped there, that would have been exactly what we wanted to hear. But — and it seems like there’s always a but — al-Khater asserted that “public displays of affection are frowned upon, it’s not part of our culture — but that goes across the board to everybody.”

There’s the (forbidden) rub. In order to host one of the biggest sporting tournaments in the world, Qatar needs to show that they’re willing to open the doors to FIFA’s LGBTQ fans. And the way that they’ve apparently chosen to do so is to tell us, “It’s OK to be gay... provided we don’t see you do anything gay.”

I never thought that a spot-on Rock Hudson impression would be a requirement to attend a soccer match but here we are.

Qatar reveals 2022 World Cup logo
Don’t hold your breath waiting for this logo to be in rainbow colors anytime soon.
Photo by Mohammed Dabbous/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

And I get al-Khater’s argument that the country’s culture discourages PDAs of any kind, regardless of sexual orientation. But what this fails to take into account is that LGBTQ fans still face the added burden of worrying that if they unknowingly violate this PDA ban, they could possibly face imprisonment. Or worse.

What’s more, Qatar authorities don’t even bother to even define what “PDA” is, which could mean that any act between a gay or lesbian couple could lead to arrest. It’s at this point when you realize that as a LGBTQ fan, it will be kind of hard to appreciate the athletic gifts of Reynaldo or Messi when you’re constantly worrying that anything from a single kiss to briefly holding hands with your partner could be deemed a violation of Qatari law.

The AFP further reported that in an attempt to get out in front of this issue, World Cup authorities met with representatives of some of Great Britain’s LGBTQ fan supporters’ clubs, and invited representatives from one of them — Liverpool’s Kop Outs — to travel to Qatar.

To be fair, Kop Outs founder Paul Amann was pleased with what he found, stating that “I’m very satisfied that their approach is to provide an ‘everyone is welcome’ ethos that does include respect, albeit through privacy.” In support of Qatar’s efforts, he further noted that “if people basically observe the no PDA advice, then I can’t see them being necessarily identifiable.”

But right there, Amann inadvertently articulated the core of the problem. If LGBTQ fans have to worry about being “identifiable” for who they are, there’s no way to justify making the trip in the first place. It’s impossible to get wrapped up in the thrill of watching a sporting event if you always have to make sure to watch yourself first.

It’s all reminiscent of what we’ve heard many times before from politicians, faith leaders and their churches who tell us they have no problem with gay people but gay acts are a sin. The Qatar World Cup wants you to know that they welcome LGBTQ fans — but only for certain parts of who they are. Specifically: those parts directly connected to buying tickets and merchandise.

For those keeping track, following the 2018 World Cup in Russia, this makes two tournaments in a row where LGBTQ fans have faced serious reservations about the safety of traveling to see the tournament. After all of this, aren’t we due for the next tourney to be in a place that’s a little more inclusive and friendly?

World Cup 2026: Dollywood. Make it happen, FIFA.