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Qatar hosts 2022 FIFA World Cup amid several human rights scandals

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Photo by Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters
Photo by Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters

With just a couple of weeks remaining until the official start of the 2022 Men's World Cup, human rights groups and fans across the world are voicing their concerns over host country Qatar's treatment of LGBTQ+ people.

Qatar is one of the most dangerous places for LGBTQ+ travelers, according to Human Rights Watch. Under its penal code, same-sex sexual activity is prohibited; the maximum penalty is seven years' imprisonment. However, the constitution also designates Islam as the state religion, and places Islamic law (sharia) above state law; under the former, the maximum penalty for homosexuality is death.

Participants display placards as LGBTQ+ associations protest in front of FIFA World Football Museum, as Qatar is set to host the 2022 World Cup, in Zurich, Switzerland November 8, 2022 — Photo by Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters  

Qatar hostile to LGBTQ+ people and topics
FIFA announced its decision to have Qatar host the 2022 World Cup back in 2010. Since then, the country has had a decade to update its laws and improve its treatment of LGBTQ+ visitors. While there have been few reports over the last decade of enforcement of its anti-LGBTQ+ laws, Qatar has continued to censor Queer topics.

In 2018 ABC News reported that Qatar was censoring all news that mentioned LGBTQ+ rights or progress. In its report, ABC concluded that several articles pertaining to LGBTQ+ progress had been excluded from the Doha edition of the international New York Times (Doha is Qatar's capital).

As the World Cup drew closer, Qatar garnered more international criticism for its treatment of LGBTQ+ people. In 2021 athletes from around the world used their platforms to call into question the country's laws.

Openly Gay, British Olympic diver Tom Daley called for a boycott, saying, "The World Cup coming up in Qatar has extreme rules against LGBT people and about women. I think it should not be allowed for a sporting event to be hosted in a country that criminalizes basic human rights."

Australian footballer Josh Cavallo, who recently came out as Gay, has also spoken out about his concerns for athletes and fans traveling to Qatar for the World Cup. "I know, personally, if I go there, I will be protected because I'm in the public eye," he told CNN. "But it's not me that I'm worried about. It's those ones that are messaging me. It's those people that aren't in the public eye, that are scared to even be themselves and walk the streets. To see that we're heading to a country that's criminalizing people like myself ...it's quite concerning."

"Safety guaranteed"
Despite concerns for the safety of LGBTQ people traveling to the country for the World Cup, Qatar's prime minister has given a "safety guarantee" to all fans, "no matter where they come from, whom they love, and what they believe in."

However, this guarantee does come with a caveat. Fans are warned they must respect the culture of the region. Transgressors will be punished.

FIFA has encouraged Doha to keep the soccer tournament tolerant, and the country has agreed to keep the matches inclusive. Fans will be allowed to fly Pride flags in the stadium, for example, but officials are allowed to confiscate any merchandise that promotes LGBTQ+ rights as soon as fans exit the stadium, to "protect" them from locals who may be angered by such items.

FIFA has also released a statement promising to promote human rights training sessions for security forces who will be working at the stadiums, and saying that the World Cup is still committed to prohibiting "discrimination of any kind on account of sexual orientation."

Photo by Nick Potts / PA / Wire DPA  

Despite the efforts of FIFA, some are still making it very clear that LGBTQ+ fans are not welcome. Former Qatari national player and current World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman described homosexuality as "damage to the mind" to a German reporter earlier this month.

Salman said being Queer is "haram" (forbidden), and expressed concerns for children viewing homosexual athletes on the world stage. "During the World Cup, many things will come here to the country," he said. "Let's talk about Gays. The most important thing is, everybody will accept that they come here, but they will have to accept our rules."

For travelers, this means avoiding public displays of affection, using Queer dating apps, and/or publicly presenting as Queer.

While hostile incidents are often not reported, as Qatar does not have any protections for LGBTQ+ people, Human Rights Watch reported in October that at least seven Queer and Trans people had been detained in a secret underground prison and tortured for weeks.

The victims were held in the Al Dafneh district of Doha, where they were subject to physical and sexual harrassment, including punching, kicking, and slapping. One woman reported losing consciousness. They were held without charge, and one person reported spending two months in solitary confinement.

In a report made to Human Rights Watch, one of the Trans women held captive said, "I was detained for three weeks without charge, and officers repeatedly sexually harassed me. Part of the release requirements were meeting with a psychologist who 'would make me a man again.'"

Another Transgender woman reported that she was arrested for wearing makeup. Upon her detention, her head was shaved, and she was forced to take a vow to never wear makeup again.

"Let football take center stage"
Despite the very real, very violent oppression LGBTQ+ people are facing in Qatar, FIFA has issued an official statement to all athletes participating in the tournament, asking them to refrain from "politics."

In a letter to all 32 participating teams, FIFA urged players to "let football take center stage." The letter was signed by FIFA President Gianni Infantino and Secretary General Fatma Samoura. The letter asked participants to "not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists."

"At FIFA, we try to respect all opinions and beliefs, without handing out moral lessons to the rest of the world. One of the great strengths of the world is indeed its very diversity, and if inclusion means anything, it means having respect for that diversity," the letter continued. "No one people or culture or nation is 'better' than any other. This principle is the very foundation stone of mutual respect and nondiscrimination. And this is also one of the core values of football."

Despite the letter, eight European teams are already planning on having their captains wear heart-shaped armbands in support of an antidiscrimination campaign, in violation of FIFA's rules. Players from Australia also participated in a viral video speaking out against Qatar's human rights violations.

Many coaches and federations are also speaking out against the country's violation of international workers' rights. Many migrant workers were underpaid and subjected to dangerous conditions, leading to several deaths during the building process of the new stadiums. Teams from several countries, including the United States, have backed a "compensation fund" for migrant workers' families. Denmark's team is also planning on sporting a black jersey in mourning for the deceased workers.

International LGBTQ+ rights groups are continuing to warn soccer fans who plan on traveling to Doha to practice extreme caution.