Qatar is making an LGBTQ-related public relations push ahead of the 2022 World Cup. The oil rich Gulf state says it will allow rainbow flags to fly at stadiums and even hosted the founder of Liverpool’s LGBTQ fan group and his husband for a visit.
But the reality on the ground for LGBTQ people in Qatar isn’t nearly as rosy. It is still illegal to be gay, and homosexuality can lead to imprisonment or even death. During this holiday season, Qatari authorities seized rainbow-colored children’s toys because the designs are deemed “contrary” to the country’s “traditions.”
With the World Cup less than one year away, the media has a responsibility to highlight Qatar’s harsh treatment of gay people, especially if outlets and networks are going to run stories about the country’s supposed turn towards modernity.
Chloe, an out teenager living in the U.K., has started an online petition demanding as much. Most specifically, Chloe is calling on public service broadcasters the BBC and ITV, both of which are sending teams to the tournament, to address these issues during their coverage.
As a young LGBTQ soccer fan, she’s been struggling with FIFA’s decision to award one its signature event to a country where it’s still dangerous for same-sex couples to hold hands in public.
“Being given the privilege to hold the World Cup, which is a major sporting event, is a big deal for a country, and can bring them a lot of publicity and can do a lot for their economy and so many aspects of how that country runs,” Chloe said. “Seeing such an honor and opportunity given to a country with appalling human’s rights laws and abuses, it’s kind of not showing at all that we don’t agree this, and think this should be stopped.”
#MOCIQATAR carried out inspection campaigns on several retail outlets in different regions across #Qatar, the campaigns resulted in the seizure and release of several violations, including the confiscation of children's toys bearing slogans that go against Islamic values.— وزارة التجارة والصناعة (@MOCIQatar) December 20, 2021
The government of Qatar has seized children's toys claiming they go against the country's values simply by being rainbow-colored. Yes, they are that anti-LGBTQ.— Cyd Zeigler (@CydZeigler) December 28, 2021
They will host the World Cup next year. https://t.co/SZJCErgKrt
FIFA says it has a “zero-tolerance position on discrimination,” yet the last World Cup was also held in Russia, where President Vladimir Putin has made LGBTQ discrimination a centerpiece of his authoritarian regime.
FIFA’s broadcasting partners, such as the BBC and ITV, say they’re committed to inclusion as well. “At the BBC we are committed to creating an inclusive workforce, by reflecting and representing the diversity of the UK,” the network’s website states.
ITV pledges to “foster creativity by championing diversity and embracing inclusion.”
Chloe would prefer their coverage match their words.
“Football organizations like to talk about equality, and then Qatar is being selected to hold the World Cup,” she said. “They’re saying one thing, but their actions are portraying another.”
Qatar says LGBTQ soccer fans are welcome to attend World Cup games, and with the world watching, it’s unlikely authorities will harass or target any out LGBTQ visitors during the tournament. But what happens when the games end?
Chloe doesn’t see any evidence Qatari officials are committed to wholesale change, regardless of how many rainbow flags are visible during World Cup matches.
She may just be 15, but she can see through the lip service.
“If they’re just putting a Pride flag up, and continue to treat the LGBTQ+ community in that country the way they do, it means nothing,” Chloe said. “It’s a completely empty gesture if they don’t actually take action.”
You can sign Chloe’s petition here.