Gay ex-footballer Thomas Beattie says Qatar World Cup makes it clear football ‘isn’t for everyone’
Former footballer Thomas Beattie has condemned FIFA for its mishandling of the Qatar World Cup’s OneLove armband fiasco.
There was uproar when a number of countries backed away from wearing the rainbow-coloured armband at the Qatar World Cup at the last minute.
In a joint statement, they said FIFA had been “very clear” that team captains who wore the armband would face sanctions, including bookings.
Beattie, a former professional footballer who came out after he retired, tells PinkNews that the blame for the OneLove armband controversy should lie with FIFA, not with players.
“I was disappointed in FIFA to be honest because I think the ownership should not be on players,” Beattie says.
“I know a lot of players personally who are at the World Cup and who are passionate about [fighting] oppression and injustice for different communities, and they do want to speak up about it and they do want to be vocal.
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“They are there to play in what is one of the biggest moments of a professional’s career. You dream about this from such a young age. A lot of them have put their blood, sweat and tears into this. It’s a hyper-pressurised environment and they just want to focus and do their best in this one moment.
“To put the pressure on players I think is really unfair – they’ve been put in a predicament that shouldn’t be on them. Their focus should be to perform at the best of their abilities.”
It was FIFA that put players in that position, Beattie says.
“That in itself I think is a form of oppression of someone’s right to protest or right to speak openly about what they believe in.”
While Beattie praises the German team for staging their own protest, he wants the public to put their focus back on FIFA and demand transparency and accountability.
“Ultimately it’s just disappointing that the players couldn’t show appreciation for things they were passionate about and that was taken away from them.”
Beattie says there are “some great people” in FIFA, but overall, the organisation “doesn’t care as much as it should”.
Qatar World Cup shows football ‘isn’t for everyone’
He’s particularly critical of FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who compared the childhood bullying he endured for having ginger hair to the plight of LGBTQ+ people in Qatar.
“No one’s ever had the death penalty for having red hair. They’re completely different. Some of his comments were just so out of touch,” Beattie says.
“The more I’ve heard and the more I’ve witnessed from FIFA, I think the more alienated our community has been.
“One thing I would say to FIFA as a whole is, going forward, there should be some lessons learned from these games.
“Women’s rights, migrant workers and the LGBT community needs to be seriously considered as a primary for any games going forward – not just an afterthought or ‘we’ll deal with that in 12 years’.
“Actions always speak louder than words and the disappointing thing with FIFA is I don’t really think they’ve taken ownership of some of the mistakes and comments that have been made.”
He continues: “I think the message is very clear that football isn’t for everyone, it’s for parts of society. Our community is a secondary thought in that process.”
As far as Beattie sees it, the ramifications of the Qatar World Cup could be far-reaching. He’s worried about the impact the debates and conversations could have on LGBTQ+ youth, who are already disproportionately affected by suicide.
“The impact of sport is we get to look at people we idolise in a realm that typically doesn’t have great visibility or representation.
“When you look around and you see nobody who you can resonate with, I think that leads to a lot of confusion, a lot of trauma, especially as a teenager when you’re trying to figure out who you are.
“For myself, I really struggled with that. I didn’t quite resonate with a lot of my teammates but I had no one else to look at and say, ‘maybe I’m just like him and he’s doing OK and he’s figured it out’.
“I think what that leads to is more shame, more confusion, more guilt and ultimately that contributes to LGBTQ teen suicide.
“Ultimately representation and visibility saves lives.
“When we censor that and then we award these games to countries that don’t have the same level of equality, it massively affects that.
“These games can do so much good but they can also have such a negative impact when we see what’s gone on recently and some of the comments that have been made.”
Thomas Beattie has no time for ‘ignorant’ politicians
In October, Cleverly advised people travelling to Qatar to be “respectful” of the host nation, where those convicted of homosexuality can be imprisoned for up to seven years.
Blair later faced criticism when he said people shouldn’t “disrespect Qatar” and that society was “in danger of going over the top on this”.
Beattie criticises both Blair and Cleverly’s comments as “ignorant”.
“I think it’s very easy for people to sit there who are not in the community and make these types of statements because they don’t know what it’s like to live with some of the trauma that people go through in the LGBT community,” he says.
“Messages like people from James Cleverly, he almost said, can we tone it down a bit, and can gay people be less gay? And I just think, what a really ignorant statement.
“It’s a horrific statement to make to ask someone to be less of themselves. It’s a part of my identity – my sexual identity is a part of me, it’s not something I turn on and off like a switch.
“These comments are ignorant and they’re super harmful. They push people further back into the closet.”
Beattie wants political figures like Cleverly and Blair to give some thought to what life is like for LGBTQ+ Qataris, who have largely been forgotten in the conversation about the World Cup.
“I will never comprehend what it’s like for a local Qatari to go through some of the things they go through growing up.
“That journey of acceptance is difficult for most people, but in the western world, the difference is we don’t fear for our lives as much.
“I never thought coming out that my government would give me the death penalty or put me in jail – I think that’s one of the big differences.”
“I’m delighted to see some of the people who have spoken openly in a positive way about it but disappointed that we’ve got such reputable figures in positions of responsibility who have done the opposite.”
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