Qatar 2022 puts LGBTQ+ people under gas lights

When the Dutch Football Association launched “One Love” two years ago, the campaign was given an international slogan that echoed a quote from Nelson Mandela: “Football has the power to unite people.” That such a simple symbol – a heart full Stripe of color meant to represent the diversity of the game – which could prove so divisive on the global stage, suggests that sport may not be such a common language after all.

Thoughts of depression are just as common in the early stages of this World Cup as goalless draws. Fifa President Gianni Infantino’s head-scratching attempt to show his allies in his pre-tournament press conference (“Today I feel gay…Today I feel disabled”) was followed not only by an almighty row over One Love armbands, but also through various incidents of persistent security guards removing rainbow items from fans. After being told ad nauseam beforehand that “everyone is welcome,” it feels like a chilly welcome for those looking to lift the spirits of absent LGBTQ+ friends.

Because we are at home. England and Wales both have LGBTQ+ supporter groups supported by their national associations, but neither felt they had sufficient security guarantees to travel to Qatar, where Human Rights Watch has documented arrests, abuse and mistreatment of LGBTQ+ people Has. This oppressed minority has zero visibility in a country where freedom of expression is severely restricted. Some are now sharing their stories about San Francisco, where one of the world’s only gay Qataris, Dr. Nasser Mohamed, has been alive since he applied for political asylum in the US five years ago.

I’ve been working with Mohammed on media and campaigns since the summer. It is harrowing to hear testimonies like that of trans women who have been beaten and jailed, while other LGBTQ+ Catarians speak of severe mental health problems caused by oppression or government-sponsored attempts at “conversion therapy.” Mohamed has invoked the “gaslighting” communications strategy of the Supreme Committee, the organizing body of the hosts for the World Cup, which began by denying LGBTQ+ people in Qatar at all, then ignored the issue and then attempted to portray the country as a species of Oasis of tolerance, just in time for ticket sales.

Throughout, the overarching desire of the community has been to amplify the voices of the region. Qataris who are gay, bi and trans are certainly not a monolith, and the often imperialist Western media lens rarely captures the nuances of their experiences, such as: B. Holding conflicting identities. Instead, we too often see people bickering over armbands and attitudes – John Fashanu called for “respect” for the rules and regulations of Qatar, where gay men like his late brother Justin, the first professional footballer to come out publicly, take risks in solitary confinement and physical abuse if discovered by the country’s Preventive Security Department.

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Infantino has touted a mental health project at this 32-bench World Cup that he says will “put football at the service of society”. Instead, Fifa has done millions of LGBTQ+ people worldwide a disservice, turning us into political football with mixed messages and weak leadership. The about-face can already be anticipated when the Women’s World Cup is held in Australia and New Zealand in eight months’ time. The slogan for Qatar 2022 is ‘All is Now’ – next year it will be too late for the football family to talk about LGBTQ+ Qataris.

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[See also: The Qatar World Cup is a moral disaster – is it braver to step away, or step inside?]

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