Fifa World Cup Qatar: Tournament has ‘silver lining’ in shining light on human rights abuses, says LGBTQ+ movement

The controversies surrounding the Qatar World Cup have a “silver lining” in shining a light on human rights abuses in the country and have been a "huge fillip" to the LGBTQ+ rights movement in the Middle East, campaigners have said.

Activists said while they believe the tournament should never have been awarded to the country, which curbs the rights of gay, lesbian and trans people, as well as restricting women's rights, the silver lining of doing so has been to allow the world to understand the persecution experienced by groups in Qatar.

Livingston MP Hannah Bardell, who plays grassroots football for a Glasgow women’s team, said the tournament has “shone a light” on Qatar’s human rights abuses.

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"I think it was the wrong decision [to award the tournament to Qatar], but I do believe in taking a nuanced view and it has raised issues that may not have otherwise been raised,” she said. “It shows where the world and most people are at that they were so infuriated by [what has happened].”

Germany fans pose for a photo wearing a rainbow wristband in Doha, Qatar.
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Ms Bardell added: “I think it's possible to reflect and say that it has really shone a light on Qatar – its human rights abuses and its treatment of women and LGBTQ+ people – but the truth of pudding is in the eating and it will be in the post competition time as to whether we see if there will be any changes applied. Will it make any practical difference to people's lives on the ground?”

The MP said the human rights issues had marred the tournament for international LGBT fans. She said: "It's rotten that as an LGBT fan and as a gay woman, I definitely wouldn't have felt safe going to Qatar and I don't even feel engaged in the competition as a result.”

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Campaigner Peter Tatchell, who was arrested in Qatar earlier this year for a one-day demonstration in which he held up a placard stating “Qatar arrests, jails & subjects LGBTs to ‘conversion’ #QatarAntiGay”, welcomed the support of teams who had spoken out about human rights abuses in the Gulf nation.

He said the international outpouring of support had given hope to those who were persecuted in repressive countries.

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Campaigner Peter Tatchell was arrested in Qatar earlier this year for a one-day demonstration in which he held up a placard stating “Qatar arrests, jails & subjects LGBTs to ‘conversion’ #QatarAntiGay”.

Plans made by England – and a number of other major teams – to wear a “One Love” armband during matches were scrapped at the last minute after Fifa warned all team members could be subject to sanctions – widely believed to be a yellow card – if they wore the item.

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However, some teams have continued to protest. The German team was pictured with their hands over their mouths, indicating a curb on free speech, before their game against Japan earlier this week. Meanwhile, tournament organiser Fifa told World Cup venues to let rainbow-coloured hats and flags into stadiums for the remainder of the tournament following reports fans were being turned away or told to remove items worn in support of the LGBTQ+ community.

Mr Tatchell told The Scotsman: "Qatar should have never been given the World Cup, given its abuses against women, LGBTs and migrant workers. But the silver lining is that hosting the tournament has shone a light on the regime's repression.

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“I'm overjoyed that several teams have made statements and videos, and worn rainbow insignia, in solidarity with the LGBT+ community. LGBT+ Qataris really appreciate this solidarity. It has given them a huge psychological and emotional boost to know that the outside world knows and cares about their plight.

“But I am disappointed that despite me raising the issue many times, most media and football teams have ignored the gross discrimination against Qatari women. They have to get the permission of a male guardian in order to marry, get certain jobs, study and travel abroad.”

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He added: "The coverage and debate on LGBT+ issues has given a huge fillip to the Middle Eastern and global LGBT+ rights movement. It has given hope to LGBTs living in repressive countries and helped educate straight people across the world about the extreme persecution that LGBT+ people suffer in Qatar and nearly 70 other countries – over a third of the countries on Earth.”

Fifa itself has come under fire for failing to stand up for the rights of members of the LGBTQ+ community.

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Before the tournament, Fifa head Gianni Infantino told national football associations they needed to “focus on the football” and ensure the sport was not “dragged” into political battles.

The Sport & Rights Alliance yesterday warned of a “significant backsliding” within Fifa on human rights and called on the organisation to “step up” to ensure human rights are upheld in Qatar for the remainder of the tournament.

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The alliance said: “To realign with its own policies, responsibilities and commitments, Fifa must immediately step up and act to ensure respect for human rights of fans, journalists, and athletes – whether locals or visitors – are upheld for the remainder of the tournament.

"The Sport & Rights Alliance calls on Fifa to issue a public statement reinforcing their commitment to human rights, how they intend to remedy the incidents that have already occurred and what measures they are putting in place as guarantees of non-repetition.”

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Robbie de Santos, director of communications and external affairs at Stonewall, said: “We appreciate all players' efforts to draw attention to the appalling human rights abuses of LGBTQ+ people in Qatar, including efforts to wear One Love armbands. We urge sporting federations and players to continue to speak out in Qatar as best they can.

“The real issue is that Fifa have acted to brush criticism of human rights under the carpet. They must reverse this decision.”

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