Strip Qatar’s Homophobic Regime of the 2022 World Cup Now

A general view shows the Al Bayt stadium, built for the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup soccer championship, during a stadium tour in Al Khor
The Al Bayt stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, just north of Doha, built for the 2022 FIFA World Cup soccer championship.
Reuters/ Kai Pfaffenbach

There is no shortage of compelling reasons to relocate the 2022 FIFA World Cup from the small Gulf country of Qatar to another host nation.

The frequently cited arguments range from Qatar bribing members of the International Federation of Association Football’s executive committee to secure the prestigious competition, according to sources including the US Justice Department, to that nation’s oppressive heat that creates impossible playing conditions to the lack of control over COVID-19 in the Gulf state.

The most pressing reason to pull the plug on the soccer World Cup in Qatar, however, is the Islamic regime’s lethal homophobic law targeting gay and lesbian sexual activity. Qatar’s statute also states that people can be incarcerated for “leading, instigating, or seducing a male in any way to commit sodomy.” It is long overdue for elite sports associations to cease rewarding nations that criminalize homosexuality.

After all, the world of sports, including in the Olympic Charter, has enshrined human rights as an animating principle for athletes.

But the head of the 2022 World Cup bid team, Hassan al-Thawadi, has set, as a condition of attending the soccer championship, the requirement that there be no public displays of same-sex affection, the BBC reported in 2013. He defended his regime’s anti-gay laws in response to a gay man who asked if he would be welcome in Qatar.

Then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter, addressing the selection of Qatar in comments in 2010, went as far as to say that gays should “refrain from sexual activity” if they go to Qatar, because homosexuality is illegal in the Gulf country. He later issued an apology.

“It was not my intention and never will be my intention to go into any discrimination,” he said.

But Blatter set the tone and the damage was done.

Blatter was subsequently ejected from office, facing criminal proceedings regarding “criminal mismanagement… and misappropriation.”

Rasha Younes, a researcher for Human Rights Watch’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program, neatly captured the insidious nature of Qatar’s response to complaints about its anti-LGBTQ posture. When the monarchy declared that “everyone is welcome,” Younes argued, the “decision to temporarily suspend local norms has the paradoxical effect of bolstering the idea that same-sex desire and gender variance are a peculiar preoccupation of outsiders.”

And despite Qatar’s insistence that “everyone is welcome” at the 2022 World Cup, that has never been the Gulf State’s posture toward foreign visitors. In 1996, according to the US Department of State’s human rights report, an American citizen there was sentenced to 90 lashes and a six-month prison term for “homosexual activity.” The following year, Qatar’s regime deported 36 gay Filipino workers.

Last November, the travel website Asher & Lyric wrote that Qatar is the second-most dangerous country for the LGBTQ community. The top 10 list of most dangerous countries for LGBTQ tourists also included the Islamic Republic of Iran, Nigeria, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.

Asher & Lyric used the following factors to assess the dangers of each country: criminalization of LGBTQ sexual relations, the status of same-sex marriage rights, the existence of LGBTQ worker protections, legal protections against anti-LGBTQ discrimination, criminalization of hate-based violence, adoption recognition, illegal LGBTQ relationships and acts, and propaganda/ morality laws.

Unfortunately, FIFA is not the only world-class institution that has cosigned Qatar’s homophobia.

This past February, Northwestern University, the highly respected Evanston, Illinois-based institution, capitulated to anti-gay hysteria in the Gulf state and canceled a music event at its Qatar campus with an openly gay singer from the Lebanese indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila.

Writing on the website of Human Rights Watch in June, Younes, the LGBTQ researcher, noted with respect to the band cancellation, “When Qatar paints LGBT rights as an imperialist agenda, it leaves LGBT people reluctant to speak out against government oppression for fear of being labeled ‘traitors,’ as many LGBT Qataris have told Human Rights Watch”

FIFA surely knew in advance of awarding the World Cup to Qatar that the Doha regime punishes homosexual acts with one to three years in prison, flogging, or execution under its Islamic Sharia law system.

Making matters worse, Qatar continues its state-sponsored homophobia unabated. The prestige of being awarded the most important world soccer competition has not influenced a change in Qatar’s anti-gay behavior.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the emir of Qatar, meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin last via Wikimedia Commons

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a nonprofit organization based in Washington that monitors media in the Arab and Muslim world, translated a virulently homophobic June article from a media adviser to Qatar’s Foreign Ministry who argued homosexuality is a grave sin and unnatural.

In her diatribe against gays in Al Sharq, a Doha-based pro-regime daily newspaper, Qatari journalist Na’ima ’Abd al-Wahhab al-Mutawa’a wrote, “A grave issue that can already be described as a phenomenon, and which we can no longer keep silent about, is the warm attitude evident on many social networks — especially on Snapchat — toward homosexuality, [which] deviates from the nature Allah bestowed upon males and females, and toward [the phenomenon] we see in our society of young men looking like women and young women looking like men.”

The title of her article is “Keep Deviant Ideas Away from Your Children.”

Free media are nonexistent in Qatar. The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, controls all press in the oil and gas rich monarchy.

In response to anti-gay Qatari sociologist Abd al-Aziz Khazraj al-Ansari blaming the August Beirut port explosion on Lebanese girls, homosexuals, and plastic surgery in the Eastern Mediterranean country, the famed British LGBTQ and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell told me, “On the issue of homosexuality, Ansari should look in his own backyard of Qatar, where homosexuality is just as prevalent as in Lebanon but hidden behind a mask of hypocrisy. And, unlike racist Qatar, most Lebanese do not treat migrant workers like semi-slave labor.”

Qatar’s regime is, of course, in a state of denial about its LGBTQ community. FIFA has rewarded Qatar’s incorrigibly reactionary homophobia. There is still time for FIFA to relocate the World Cup to a country that does not criminalize homosexuality. If the tournament takes place in the Gulf state, it will only embolden Qatar’s lethal homophobic system. Britain and other countries could easily host the tournament. The time is ripe to relocate the World Cup.

Benjamin Weinthal is a research fellow for the non-partisan Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Weinthal on Twitter @BenWeinthal.