Earlier this month, FIFA shocked world soccer supporters when it chose the small Middle Eastern country of Qatar to host the World Cup in 2022. While many observers called the process corrupt, it also appeared unusual for a global audience, not only because of the country’s scorching summertime heat, but also because of some prohibitive local customs, for example limits on alcohol consumption and on provocative dress, and the fact that women are “subject to gender discrimination under a range of laws and practices” and homosexuality is illegal.
When a reporter asked this week if he anticipated any cultural problems in Qatar, FIFA president Sepp Blatter, apparently joking, said that gay fans “should refrain from any sexual activities.” Blatter went on to say that FIFA “open[s] everything to everybody” and that he didn’t think there would be any discrimination against gays in Qatar:
BLATTER: I would say that they should refrain from any sexual activities. [laughter] No, but we are living in a world of freedom and I’m sure when the World Cup will be in Qatar…you will see in the Middle East the opening of this culture. … I think there shall not be any discrimination against any human beings being on this side or that side or left or right of whatever because football is a game that does not effect any discrimination… If they want to watch a match somewhere in the Qatar in 2022, I’m sure they will be admitted to such matches.
“[W]hat he is really saying is ‘Don’t be camp, don’t hold hands, don’t look into each other’s eyes, don’t book rooms with one bed, don’t have candle-lit dinners in the restaurant…’ and on and on,” he said.
“He’s really saying don’t even ‘look’ gay, re-closet yourself and pretend the ties and love and affection you have for your partner or even some random bloke you might meet on your travels are gone for the whole time you are in Qatar.”
The Gay Football Supporters’ Network called on Blatter to apologize or resign, saying that LGBT fans and players “do not deserve to be laughed at.” Juris Lavrikovs, a spokesperson for the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association agreed. “This is not a joke, this is a matter of life and death to people,” Lavrikovs said. “Qatar and more than 70 other countries in the world still criminalize individuals for homosexual relationships, and some countries even punish them by death sentence.”