‘Homophobic dictators’ to blame for Qatar World Cup controversies, activists say

A closeup image of a player's arm from the Netherlands wearing a rainbow OneLove armband

LGBTQ+ activists in Qatar have hit out at “homophobic dictators” in the country, after comments were made about the OneLove World Cup armband being an insult to “the Islamic world”.

Earlier this week, Hassan al-Thawadi, head of Qatar’s World Cup organising committee, said teams wanting to wear the pro-LGBTQ+ OneLove armband at the tournament were sending a “very divisive message” to the Arab world.

England and Wales teams planned to wear the armband at the tournament, but pulled out when threatened with a yellow card by FIFA.

“If the teams decided to do it throughout the entire season, that is one thing,” said al-Thawadi, secretary general of the supreme World Cup committee for delivery and legacy

“But if you’re coming to make a point, or a statement in Qatar, that is something I have an issue with. And it goes back to the simple fact that this is a part of the world that has its own set of values.

“This is not Qatar I’m talking about, it’s the Arab world.”

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LGBTQ+ campaigners in Qatar have hit back at these comments, calling officials “homophobic dictators” and saying their issues stem from the fact they “do not believe LGBT rights are human rights”.

It has also been claimed that the claims around “Islamic values” made by al-Thawadi are a “scapegoat”.

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BBC football presenter Alex Scott wears LGBTQ+ armband after teams' shameful U-turn
BBC football presenter Alex Scott wears a OneLove armband during a broadcast. (BBC Sport)

Wajeeh Lion, who claims to be the first openly gay man from Saudi Arabia, has accused Qatar of paying a lot of money and “bribing many officials” in order to bring the World Cup to the country. 

They told PinkNews: “They waited last minute to ban alcohol from the stadium and to bring an Islamic preacher who has permitted suicide bombing in 2016 to give a lecture for the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup. 

“If anyone is sending a message of hate and intolerance not accepting others it is the Qatari government with so many ifs and buts, Qatar wants the whole world to feel welcome in their nation and at the same time they demand they hide their identity.” 

Lion, who is a human rights activist, said Qatar uses “Islamic values” as a scapegoat when criticism of its human rights violations are raised, such as comments about the OneLove armband.

They pointed out the religion is supposed to be one of “acceptance and tolerance” but is instead used to “keep privileges for certain members of society and oppress others”. 

Lion also noted the World Cup as “historical” for people to make “so many political statements”.

Dr Nas Mohamed, only publicly out LGBTQ+ Qatari, stands with his hand in front of him. His palm is facing towards the camera, and there are painted stripes in the colours of the LGBTQ+ and trans Pride flags on his fingers. In the centre of his palm, there are the worlds 'Love is not criminal'
Qatar’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws have come under the spotlight. (Dr Nas Mohamed)

Dr Nas Mohamed, the first gay man in Qatar to come out on a public platform, tells PinkNews the “issue about LGBT rights is not about Islamic values”.

“It is about a group of homophobic dictators that do not believe LGBT rights are human rights.

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“This debate is literally happening everywhere and the LGBT community is always being faced with many ‘counter arguments’.

“Perhaps instead of saying ‘wear a rainbow armband’ or ‘LGBT conversations are against Islam’ It may be more helpful to say: Can ‘John and his husband Ahmad’ bring their family to this World Cup and feel safe?”

Dr Mohamed said the ways in which LGBTQ+ people suffer in Qatar are not Islamic.

He added: “They are not part of our tradition. It is abuse we are being subjected to in the name of religion and tradition.

“LGBT rights are human rights. Our abuse does not belong anywhere. We must speak up for our rights everywhere.”

Stuart Andrew
Stuart Andrew wears OneLove rainbow armband and a rainbow tie to the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between Wales and England at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan, west of Doha on November 29, 2022. (Ina Fassbender / AFP via Getty Images)

Hassan al-Thawadi added it’s fine for teams to “preach or make statements” but added: “What you’re essentially saying is you’re protesting an Islamic country hosting an event.”

“Where does that end? Does that mean no Islamic country can never be able to participate in anything?

“There’s going to be different values and different views coming in.

“So, for me, if you’re going to come specifically to make a statement here in Qatar – or specifically addressed to Qatar and by extension, the Islamic world – it leaves a very divisive message.”

The Qatar World Cup pitch invader runs across the pitch, holding a Pride flag like a cape
A pitch invader holds a Pride flag during the Group H World Cup match between Portugal and Uruguay. (Getty/ BSR Agency/ Pablo Morano)

Since the start of the World Cup, fans attending matches have been turned away from entering Qatar stadiums for wearing rainbow colours.

Following FIFA holding “urgent talks” with Qatar, the country has stated that Pride colours “will not be prohibited”, but players have still not worn the OneLove armband.

In response to people being stopped by security staff for wearing rainbow colours, Thawadi said World Cup organisers wanted to uphold regional values.

“It’s for the Islamic world, it’s for the Arab world, it’s for the Middle East.

“There are certain things that we will not agree upon. But let us find a way of coexisting and moving forward, one way or the other. That is where mutual respect is fundamental.”

In Qatar homosexuality is illegal and being found guilty of same-sex relations can result in a lengthy prison sentence, while under Sharia law it is possible for men to face the death penalty if they are found to have engaged in same-sex intimacy.

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