Editor’s note: A version of this article appeared in the Friday edition of CNN’s Middle East bulletin, which covers the region’s biggest stories three times a week. Register here.
“I am a man and I love men. I – don’t be shocked – have sex with other men. This is normal. So get used to it or stay away from football.”
Dario Minden was a German soccer fan before a video of his powerful speech went viral on social media in September.
He spoke in his native German for most of his 15-minute speech before switching to English, a deliberate change for impact, he said. He wanted the world to listen.
Addressing a room full of dignitaries and sponsors at a human rights conference in Frankfurt organized by the German Football Association, he spoke directly to Qatar’s ambassador to Germany, Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Saud al-Thani, with his powerful words. Sitting in the front row, the camera pans briefly to al-Thani, showing him looking and listening to Minden.
“Football is for everybody,” Minden continued. “It doesn’t matter if you’re lesbian, if you’re gay, it’s for everybody. For boys, for girls, and for everyone… Soccer is very important for everyone. No matter how rich you are, we can’t let you break it. You are invited to join the international football community, and of course to host a major tournament. But that’s how it is in sports. You must accept the rules.”
At the end, some members of the audience burst into applause.
The fact that she loves men and has sex with men isn’t a problem in her home country, but in Qatar, which is hosting the month-long World Cup, the sport’s biggest and most lucrative event.
The first World Cup to be held in the Middle East was undoubtedly historic, but also controversial due to the deaths of migrant workers and the conditions many endured as Gulf states prepared for the tournament. LGBTQ and women’s rights.
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and punishable by up to three years in prison. A Human Rights Watch report published last month documented cases of arbitrary detention and “ill-treatment in detention facilities” by Qatari security forces in September.
In an interview with CNN, Minden said he will not travel to Qatar or watch the tournament on television.
“When we talk about the LGBTQ+ rights situation, we’re not just talking about soccer tourists, but the situation before and especially after the World Cup,” he said.
After the conference, Minden said he spoke privately with the ambassador, who told them to welcome everyone to Qatar. But Minden told CNN, “It’s not safe and it’s not right.”
A Qatari government official told CNN that the World Cup host country was an accessible country. “Everyone is welcome in Qatar,” the statement added, adding, “Our success demonstrates the warm welcome that all people have, regardless of their background.”
According to FIFA, measures are being taken to prevent discrimination of any kind, including conducting human rights training with public and private security forces and adopting legal provisions to protect everyone.
“The mission is to ensure accessibility, accessibility and legacy,” said a statement sent to CNN on behalf of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC), which oversees infrastructure projects and is responsible for planning the World Cup since its inception in 2011. Since hosting the World Cup in 2010, the country has hosted hundreds of international and regional sporting events.
“There were no issues and each event was delivered safely,” the statement said.
“Everyone is welcome in Qatar, but we are a conservative country and we don’t like showing affection to the public, regardless of orientation. We just ask people to respect our culture.”
But in an interview with German broadcaster ZDF earlier this month, former World Cup ambassador and footballer Khalid Salman said gay sex was “devastating”.
Asked by CNN for advice from members of the LGBTQ community traveling to Qatar, FIFA cited a recent public statement by FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura, who said: “Regardless of your race, your religion, your religion. Your social or sexual orientation. “We welcome you all, Qataris are ready to receive you with hospitality beyond your imagination.”
But for Englishman Rob Sanderson, respecting culture is a “two-way street.”
Sanderson is a special projects officer for Pride of Football, the UK’s network of LGBTQ fan groups and one of the supporters’ groups that joined forces for the union. open letter Condemning FIFA and the Supreme Committee, the world governing body and Qatar have rejected claims that the World Cup will be universal.
He is a regular for England and said he was the victim of homophobic abuse four years ago at Wembley Stadium in 2018 during England’s 2018 v Spain clash with another fan. Police were notified of the incident and an investigation was launched, but there was “not enough evidence” to proceed, he said. But he felt accepted at England games where he and his friends raised their pride flags in celebration of the community and the team.
However, he won’t be going to Qatar and says if England win the tournament, it will be an eclipsed trophy.
“I don’t feel comfortable traveling to Qatar and being seen in any way, because if I openly show that I’m an LGBT+ football fan, all I’m doing is putting a target on the back of a local person who doesn’t care. It’s different from being hostile to me,” the 34-year-old told CNN.
“I don’t feel comfortable using any animosity around after the race as an excuse. It doesn’t work for me.”
Qatar is not the first country to host a major sporting event, or even the FIFA World Cup. Most recently, in 2013, Russia introduced a law banning the “promotion of non-traditional sex”.
As part of preparations for the 2018 competition, the British Foreign Office has warned members of the LGBT community about “increased risks” traveling to Russia.
But while some members of Football Pride have traveled to Russia, Sanderson said none of the members are going to Qatar, as homosexuality is considered safe in the post-Soviet and pre-Putin days of Russian society. . “It’s a completely different environment,” he said.
“They said, ‘everyone is welcome,’ but they signed ‘you must respect our culture.'”
FIFA has reportedly urged participating nations to focus on football when the tournament kicks off on Sunday.
The letter, signed by FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Samura, has been sent to the 32 participating nations, but FIFA told CNN that the contents would not be disclosed.
Football Pride, Rainbow Wall and Three Lions Pride fan groups issued a joint statement earlier this month saying, “Let me be clear that talking about human rights is neither ideological nor political. It’s just about wanting people to be able to watch the team without fear of ethics or abuse.”
Several European federations have also announced that they will continue to campaign at the tournament on human rights issues and compensation for migrant workers.
Gareth Bale, once the world’s most expensive footballer and Wales captain, will wear a OneLove armband during the match in Qatar to support the season’s campaign for diversity and inclusion. Wales are one of eight European countries participating in the World Cup.
“We can shed light on the issues that are going on,” the former Real Madrid player told reporters before leaving for Qatar.
However, France captain Hugo Lloris, another team involved in the OneLove campaign, said on Monday that Qatari culture should be “respected” when asked by reporters about wearing the rainbow colored armbands.
“In France, when we welcome foreigners, we want them to play by our rules and respect our culture. I will do the same when I go to Qatar,” he said.
England flew to Qatar on Tuesday on a ‘Rainbow’ plane, with the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) displaying a rainbow logo at the team’s training facility in Doha. Speaking to reporters, head coach Gregg Berhalter said: “We recognize that Qatar has made progress and made tons of progress, but there is work to be done.”
The closer we get to the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador on November 20th, the louder the voices of the protesters and the more visible the signs of support for LGBTQ issues.
The World Cup, like the Olympic Games, puts the host country in the global spotlight. Usually, most controversies are forgotten once the sport starts, but with so much attention being paid to Qatar’s human rights issues, it would be great if all was forgotten during Sunday’s game. Next month’s headlines are unlikely to be all about football.