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At Qatar’s World Cup, LGBTQ fans are supposedly ‘welcome’ but still afraid

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Len Lanzi is a certified football boomer who has moved into the 21st century in a beautiful game whose fans now know no bounds. In the past decade, he latched on to Tottenham Hotspur and then Los Angeles FC as MLS expanded into his adopted city. He has followed the US national teams and recently traveled to Europe to sample the global flavors of the sport he now loves. He hit London, Amsterdam, Dortmund and Paris and, in his words, “was absolutely right.”

So Lanzi, like thousands of Americans, considered going to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup.

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But he, like other LGBTQ fans who spoke to Sportzshala Sports, chose not to for very specific reasons.

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“I will watch it from my home here in the United States where it’s safe,” Lanzi said. “And where I don’t have to look back and think government people looking over our shoulder?

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FIFA and the Qatar Supreme Committee, the two organizations responsible for organizing the 2022 FIFA World Cup, have said they are “inviting everyone” to the tournament, which starts on November 21. However, the host country has not repealed or suspended laws criminalizing homosexuality. It’s regular ranks among the most dangerous destinations for LGBT travelers. The US State Department warns that queer Qataris were “largely concealed[e] their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression due to a hidden pattern of discrimination against LGBTQI+ people.”

This discrimination has resulted in a significant number of fans who yearned to see the World Cup feel unsafe and unwelcome at the four-year football extravaganza.

“I can’t say that I would be comfortable going there — it’s painful for me because I really want to go,” one US non-binary fan told Sportzshala Sports. They first agreed to speak on the record and then, like others, asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions for criticizing the Qatari government. Some fans were even hesitant to speak anonymously. “If I find myself in Qatar,” wrote one of them, “I want to go unnoticed.” In light of the fact that his sexual orientation can be found through Google, he said he “got a few words of caution about the prospect of leaving.”

Some LGBTQ fans and advocates admit that in all likelihood they will be able to attend the games and return home without any problems. The arrest of a gay fan would be an international incident and overshadow a tournament whose main geopolitical goal is to wash Qatar’s image in the eyes of the world.

But even the slightest uncertainty created lingering discomfort.

“It could be potentially very dangerous, or it could be completely normal — you won’t know until you go,” Lanzi said. “Usually I take risks, but this one is so striking.”

A wide view of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar countdown clock marking 30 days until the opening day of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar in Doha, the capital of Qatar, on October 20, 2022.  (Photo by Nikku/Xinhua via Getty Images)
A wide view of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar countdown clock marking 30 days until the opening day of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar in Doha, the capital of Qatar, on October 20, 2022. (Photo by Nikku/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Fans not convinced Qatar opens its doors ‘without discrimination’

Under sharia law, homosexuality is punishable by death, which has contributed to the spread of misinformation and exaggerated fears as the World Cup approaches. In fact, there is no evidence that the punishment was ever used in Qatar. But Criminal Code of Qatar whether any extramarital sex, including same-sex sex, is punishable by up to seven years in prison; and “leading, abetting or seducing a man into sodomy or debauchery” from 1-3 years old.

Reports of incarceration are rare, in part because in a very conservative state, much of Qatar’s LGBTQ community remains closed off. Some are forced to suppress their true selves and marry the opposite sex. And if they do live openly, or if the authorities invade their privacy, there may be retribution. Human Rights Watch reports this. Qatari officers have arbitrarily detained, beaten and harassed at least six LGBTQ people this week since 2019 and as recently as last month.

“Security forces arrested people in public places solely on the basis of their gender expression and illegally searched their phones,” the rights group said. “As a requirement for their release, security forces have ordered transgender female prisoners to attend conversion therapy sessions at a state-sponsored ‘behavioral support’ center.”

The Qatari authorities have given dozens of public and private assurances, with varying degrees of specificity and vagueness, that so-called “morality” laws will essentially not be enforced during the World Cup.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Emir of Qatar declared to the UN General Assembly in September, according to the translation, his country “will open our doors … without discrimination.”

FIFA President Gianni Infantino encouraged LGBTQ fans to get involvedand in a video message a month before the start, he specifically mentioned “gender” and “sexual orientation” as axes of non-discrimination.

Nasser Al Khater, CEO of the Supreme Committee, said gay fans would be allowed to hold hands and pride flags would be allowed.

“We have a country that is conservative, but we are a hospitable country,” Al Khater said in 2020. “We are open and friendly – ​​hospitable. We understand the difference in people’s cultures. We understand the difference in people’s beliefs, and so I again think that everyone will be welcome and treated with respect.”

“All we ask is respect for the culture.” Al Khater said this month. “After all, if you don’t do anything that harms other people, if you don’t destroy public property, as long as you behave in a non-harmful way, then everyone is welcome and you have nothing to worry about.”

However, as the box office opened and closed, some fans weren’t convinced.

“This is a country that has literally said that any other time if you’re gay, it’s very, very bad for you,” one American fan, who ultimately chose not to attend, told Sportzshala Sports. “What if now, for two or three weeks, is it completely kosher? I just don’t buy it.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 29: German fans holding protest placards with the inscription
German fans hold protest signs ahead of the Euro 2020 match between England and Germany at Wembley Stadium on June 29, 2021 in London. (Photo by Simon Stackpool/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

LGBTQ Fans Divided Over Supporting Qatar World Cup

For the fans who chose to watch from home, their reasoning was part safety, part principle. Some have said that even if Qatar and FIFA could guarantee their safety, they would not want to support the World Cup in a country that does not guarantee the safety of its own LGBT citizens.

“I really don’t want to give my money to a country that will then most likely take that money to actively work against people like me,” said one fan.

But their own fears for safety—as well as those of their partners and parents—were also real. They had no doubts about Infantino or Al-Khater, but how, the two wondered, could they be sure that every local policeman and security guard would act in accordance with the international message?

And if they weren’t sure, how could they fully enjoy the experience without constant worry?

And how could they rationalize conformity to cisgender, heterosexual norms to satisfy that concern?

“Sometimes I dress like a woman,” said a non-binary US fan. “I’m not going to change my actions to comply with the code in order to go to the World Cup.”

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverley on Wednesday invited all fans to “compromise” and “be respectful of the host country”, which is “an Islamic country with a set of cultural norms very different from ours”. But Cleverley was quickly rebuked; The prime minister’s office said people should not “compromise themselves.”

The U.S. Football Federation, for its part, “is in constant communication with the U.S. Embassy about everything we can do to ensure a safe and welcoming World Cup for all,” a USSF spokesman said. His events, including bedtime parties, will be adorned with rainbow flags and wall stickers. A “fan guide” is currently being finalized, which can be accessed by anyone who travels. And he received the same assurances from FIFA and the Supreme Committee as everyone “that LGBTQ fans will feel welcome and safe during the tournament,” the spokesman said.

And some LGBTQ fans will, of course, be among the more than a million people who will arrive in Doha in November. John Collins, a lawyer who sits on US Soccer’s board of directors, said fans have approached him asking if they could, for example, “put on their rainbow jerseys and do stuff like that.”

But others simply chose not to go. Lanzi said in a summer interview that he didn’t know any of the members. Pride of the Republichis LGBTQ supporter group at LAFC, who planned to travel to Qatar.

And it was a shame for him. “It goes against everything they are trying to build in the world of football,” he said of FIFA, “to be a host and a place where everyone can belong.”


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