Gary Neville claims Qatar World Cup can ‘impact change through football’, despite horrific LGBTQ+ laws

An image of former footballer Gary Neville smiling

Former footballer Gary Neville has addressed criticism of the World Cup being held in Qatar, claiming the tournament will help to “impact change through football”.

He also pointed out that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have similar records on human rights – homosexuality is illegal in all three countries – in defence of his decision to work for a state-owned broadcaster beIN SPORTS at the World Cup in November.

The football coach, 47, said the UAE and Saudi Arabia, who own Manchester City and Newcastle FC respectively, have not been criticised as much as Qatar despite their similar stances on LGBTQ+ rights.

“We are talking about Man City like it’s a golden ticket – they’re owned by Abu Dhabi, who have massive issues with women’s rights, worker’s rights, LGBTQ rights… exactly the same, in fact worse, than Qatar,” Neville told the Daily Mail.

“Qatar have had Amnesty International and the International Labour Organisation all over them for the last 10 years because of the World Cup.

“We either decide we are going to work with these nations in the Middle East… we collaborate with these countries, and try and impact change through football – which is what I think we should always do – or we say we’re never going to let them play sport, we’re never going to have a World Cup there, we’re never going to allow them to compete against us because they don’t have what would be as progressive rights as they should have.

“There’s no one that I think wants workers’ rights to be better than me, there’s no-one who wants women’s rights, equality or diversity more than me, I absolutely believe in it.”

Neville added that he would use his work at beIN SPORTS to “highlight issues” in the country during the World Cup, and would “never shy away from” criticising Qatar.

“When I highlight these issues, I can do so from a position whereby if I am covering eight games on beIN in a World Cup, and those issues come up or there’s an incident outside the stadium, I will highlight them, as I will on ITV, as I will on my own channels. I will never shy away from it,” Neville added.

“For me, I can understand where the criticism comes from because I put myself out there and to be fair try to defend people’s rights in this country all the time, and I’ll continue to do that through football in different countries as well.

“It [criticism] does not bother me in any way shape or form because I feel I’ve got quite a consistent and strong position on it.”

Qatar has faced searing criticism ahead of the World Cup for its treatment of LGBTQ+ locals and tourists alike, with queer people facing up to three years in prison, plus a fine, if convicted.

While Football Association (FA) chief executive Mark Bullingham has said the association had received assurances from Qatari officials that LGBTQ+ people won’t be prosecuted for holding hands at the World Cup, some activists have said the assurances are not enough.

Joe White, co-chair of Pride in Football, told PinkNews: “To a Qatari police officer or to anyone dealing with that, they’re not going to care what the English FA is saying.”

Stonewall added during the launch of its annual Rainbow Laces campaign that people should “call out” LGBTQ+ discrimination at the tournament.

Liz Ward, director of programmes at Stonewall, added: “As we approach the 2022 Men’s World Cup, we must remember that Qatar is country where LGBTQ+ people are persecuted simply for being themselves.

“Sadly, this year’s tournament is not safe for everyone, which is why it’s so important to see players and fans stand up to be counted.

“The World Cup is a vital moment for the global sporting community to stand up and call out the criminalisation and persecution of LGBTQ+ people in Qatar.”