OPINION: LGBTQ+ groups need our support around the 2022 FIFA World Cup

Tuesday, 17 May 2022 08:00 GMT

Soccer Football - World Cup - Final Draw - Doha Exhibition & Convention Center, Doha, Qatar - April 1, 2022 General view during the draw REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

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On the International Day Against Homophobia, LGBTQ+ charity GiveOut calls for support for queer communities in the Middle East and North Africa ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup

Rupert Abbott is executive director of GiveOut

Today, 17 May, is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHoBiT), established in 2004 to raise awareness about the violence and discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ people around the world.

As the 2022 FIFA World Cup approaches, GiveOut is calling on our community and allies to show their support for queer communities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region around this major sporting event.

We can do this by supporting vital organisations such as Helem, Lebanon’s largest national LGBTQ+ organisation and the oldest such Arab organisation in the region; ILGA Asia, which works to promote respect for LGBTQ+ rights across Asia including the Middle East; and IraQueer, Iraq’s first and leading LGBTQ+ rights organisation.

The World Cup men’s football competition is scheduled to take place in Qatar from November 21 to 18 December 18, 2022. This will be the first World Cup ever to be held in the MENA region.

International human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have raised serious concerns about the human rights situation in Qatar, in particular around the abuse and exploitation of the migrant workforce (including those involved in the construction of World Cup stadia) and discrimination against women and LGBTQ+ people.

There are concerns that Qatar is using the World Cup to “sports wash” its human rights record – using the competition to burnish its reputation.

Qatar’s penal code criminalises same-sex relations with imprisonment for one to three years. Same sex marriage is outlawed, and individuals convicted of sex outside of marriage can be sentenced to prison. In addition to the Penal Code, Qatar operates an interpretation of Sharia law that criminalises sexual activity between men, under which it is possible that the death penalty can be imposed.

As such, as well as ongoing grave concerns for LGBTQ+ people in Qatar, there are fears around the safety of LGBTQ+ football fans travelling to the country for the World Cup.

And Qatar is no outlier in the MENA region. Most countries in the region have laws that criminalise same-sex relations. Even in the countries that don’t, “morality laws” are used to target LGBTQ+ people.

There have been calls for countries and businesses to boycott the World Cup, and some national team corporate sponsors have vowed a soft boycott, including avoiding World Cup imagery in marketing.

With the event set to go ahead in Qatar, others are using the opportunity to raise awareness about the human rights situation in the country and call for reform. ILGA Asia and other rights groups are calling on Qatar “to repeal laws or regulations that target LGBTQ+ people”.

Indeed, England men’s football team captain Harry Kane has made it clear that Gareth Southgate’s squad will seek to raise awareness about human rights concerns during the World Cup, a move welcomed by England’s LGBTQ+ fan group Three Lions Pride.

Beyond words, one way our community and allies – including football figures and corporates – can show their solidarity with LGBTQ+ communities in Qatar and MENA, is by supporting those organisations in the region like Helem, ILGA Asia and IraQueer that are working tirelessly to defend LGBTQ+ rights.

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