As the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East, Qatar 2022 is undoubtedly a historic event, but it is also one clouded by controversy, particularly regarding LGBTQ rights.
Homosexuality in Qatar is illegal and punishable by up to three years in prison. A report from Human Rights Watch published last month documented cases as recently as September of Qatari security forces arbitrarily arresting LGBTQ people and subjecting them to “ill-treatment in detention.”
In September, German soccer fan Dario Minden, in a room full of dignitaries and sponsors at a human rights conference in Frankfurt hosted by the German Football Association, said: “I’m a man and I love men. I do – please don’t be shocked – have sex with other men. This is normal. So please get used to it, or stay out of football.”
Minden looked directly at Qatar’s ambassador to Germany, Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Saud al-Than, while he spoke.
Minden told CNN that he would not be going to Qatar and would not be watching the competition on television.
“When we talk about the situation for the LGBTQ+ rights, we mean not only the football tourists, but also the situation before, and especially after, the World Cup,” he said.
After the conference, Minden said he spoke privately with the ambassador, who he said told him all were welcome to Qatar. But Minden told CNN, “It’s not safe and it’s not right.”
What Qatar and FIFA say: A Qatar government official told CNN in a statement that the World Cup host is an inclusive country. “Everyone is welcome in Qatar,” the statement read, adding that “our track record has shown that we have warmly welcomed all people regardless of background.”
Measures were being implemented to ensure discrimination of any kind did not happen, such as human rights training sessions with public and private security forces, and the enacting of legal provisions for the protection of everyone, according to FIFA.
A statement sent to CNN on behalf of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, which, since its formation in 2011, has been responsible for overseeing the infrastructure projects and planning for the World Cup, said it was committed to “an inclusive and discriminatory-free” World Cup, pointing to the fact that the country had, it said, hosted hundreds of international and regional sporting events since being awarded the World Cup in 2010.
“Everyone is welcome in Qatar, but we are a conservative country and any public display of affection, regardless of orientation, is frowned upon. We simply ask for people to respect our culture,” according to the statement.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino also said that “everyone is welcome” on Saturday during a press conference.
“The LGBT situation I have been speaking about this topic with the highest leadership of the country several times, not just once. They have confirmed and I can confirm that everyone is welcome,” Infantino said.
A “two-way street”: But for Englishman Rob Sanderson, the respecting of cultures is a “two-way street.”
Sanderson is special projects officer of Pride in Football, a network of UK LGBTQ fan groups and one of the supporter groups that joined forces in an open letter to condemn both FIFA and the Supreme Committee, refuting the world governing body and Qatar’s claims that it would be a World Cup for all.
“They said ‘everyone’s welcome’ but they’ve signed that line off by saying ‘you must respect our culture,’” he added.
“I don’t feel comfortable being used as an excuse for any hostility that would be around after the tournament. It doesn’t sit right with me,” he said.
CNN’s Teele Rebane in Hong Kong and CNN’s Sophie Jeong in Seoul contributed reporting to this post.