James Cleverly claims Qatar has taken ‘real steps’ to protect gay fans. Evidence suggests otherwise

British Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs James Cleverly looks on during a state visit of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Houses of Parliament.

Foreign secretary James Cleverley has claimed that Qatar is taking “real steps” to ensure the safety of queer football fans at the 2022 World Cup.

The Conservative MP told the BBC that gay rights issues had been brought up over a number of years while helping the country prepare for the event.

He said UK officials were having “difficult conversations” with the Qatari government and has been clear on the UK’s stance regarding LGBTQ+ rights.

“I’ve made it clear that we feel very strongly about this issue and actually one of the advantages about having a strong relationship with other countries is you can have these difficult conversations,” Cleverly said.

“The Qataris know how seriously we take this issue and they have taken real steps to ensure that gay football fans are safe and do feel secure and can enjoy the football.”

Gay people ‘abused then recruited’

Qatar has strict laws regarding LGBTQ+ citizens. Under Qatar Penal Code 2004, queer people can be jailed for up to seven years for having sex, while Sharia law punishes homosexuality with the death penalty.

Additionally, reports from Qatari LGBTQ+ campaigners claim officials in the country use the threat of torture to turn queer people into “agents” that identify other LGBTQ+ people.

Dr Nasser Mohamed told The Guardian gay Qataris were captured and “physically abused then recruited”, saying it’s not safe for queer citizens to know one another.

During the Qatar World Cup, officials have been reported as being “pretty heavy-handed” and “quite intimidating” while removing pro-LGBTQ+ clothing and items from fans.

Former Wales football captain Laura McAllister told BBC that she was told to remove a rainbow bucket hat after officials gathered around her in an “unpleasant and intimidating experience”.

“We were told it was a regulation – clearly I work in football, I work with UEFA, so I know the regulations – so I asked which regulation it applied to and we weren’t told that.”

When asked about fans and players wearing Pride clothing in support of LGBTQ+ rights, Cleverly said that the “rules for what goes on in the stadia” were a matter for FIFA and the football authorities.

The football governing body recently imposed sanctions for players wearing the pro-LGBTQ+ OneLove armbands during matches.

In a joint statement, the collective football associations said on Monday (21 November): “As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings, so we have asked the captains not to attempt to wear the armbands in FIFA World Cup games.”

As well as this, the Belgian team was told by FIFA to remove the word “love” from the inside collar of their shirts before their first match begins on Wednesday (23 November).

James Cleverly told queer people to ‘be respectful’

The foreign secretary had previously told LGBTQ+ football fans to “compromise” with Qatar laws.

Speaking to LBC on 26 October, Cleverly said that queer World Cup attendees needed to be “respectful” of the host nation during the event.

“One of the things I would say for football fans is, you know, please do be respectful of the host nation… with a little bit of flex and compromise at both ends, it can be a safe, secure and exciting World Cup,” he said.