Aidan Smith: Qatar thinks homosexuality is abnormal - no, abnormal is this country hosting the World Cup

Have you noticed the emblem for Qatar’s World Cup? Maybe this is just me and the way my mind works – there’s a lot of cynicism about right now, not least concerning this tournament – but doesn’t it seem a bit sinister?

The Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 logo is projected on the facade of the Algiers Opera House in the Algerian capital.
The Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 logo is projected on the facade of the Algiers Opera House in the Algerian capital.

Okay, not sinister in how it looks, but what it appears to be trying to look like. That loop with the twist at the bottom – isn’t it copying the ribbons worn in support of the gay community and to raise awareness of breast cancer?

Apparently not. “The swooping curves represent desert dunes,” according to the organisers. The loop is unbroken – initially I hadn’t noticed this – and forms an eight, the number of stadia being used. This also represents “the infinity symbol” reflecting the World Cup’s “interconnected nature, fusing tradition with modernity”. Silly me.

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How could I possibly think that cunning marketing had conspired in the creation of the emblem in the hope that subliminal warm vibes could flow in the direction of two of the three groups who are probably the least enthusiastic about the greatest show on earth being staged in Qatar?

And that this might quell the criticism directed at the Gulf mini-state and its monarchical dictatorship, at least for the duration of the competition before the circus packs up and departs? Silly, cynical me.

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In case you don’t know, in case you’ve purchased your official sticker album and believe 2022 to be just another World Cup, here are those three groups: LGBTQ+, women and migrant workers.

Qatar considers homosexuality abnormal, punishable by three years in jail. It has a male guardianship system in which women are dependent on men for permission to marry, travel, enrol in private education and access reproductive healthcare. And migrant workers – without any condescending concessions paid to them by the emblem, real or suspected – have given their lives to this World Cup. According to some estimates, more than 5,000 have died building the stadiums.

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I’ll tell you what’s abnormal: handing the tournament to a country not just ignorant about football but also freedom. The wealthiest state on earth is impoverished when it comes to human rights. Qatar has zero heritage in the sport and is such an inhospitable land for the playing of games that the entire global football calendar is being forced to a juddering halt just so the World Cup may be completed without the risk of any of the stellar names feeling like they’re about to croak their last in one of Jock Wallace’s pre-season torture sessions on the sands of Gullane’s Murder Hill.

But it’s too late; the opener kicks off in just 21 days. So we are left to speculate about which of the pundit-clowns, so keen to blether and blurt in the belief that “everyone’s entitled to my opinion”, will be first to marvel at the construction of Qatar’s colosseums – forgetting or perhaps not even aware of the human cost involved.

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Who’s going to this World Cup and who’s not? Politicians can’t properly “do” football. They invariably end up with twisted blood when attempting to flaunt fan credentials at the electorate. Sir Keir Starmer isn’t going. The Labour leader at least seems to be a football man from those occasional photos of him huffing and puffing on the five-a-side court. James Cleverly, who doesn’t, will be there. The current Foreign Secretary – as of this week at any rate – late-tackled Starmer by claiming it was easy for his rival to adopt his stance in opposition, completely ignoring that those shocking human rights abuses amount to a perfectly valid reason for a boycott. Cleverly is going because his opposite numbers around the world will be there. He calls this work; others might say schmoozing.

But what did Cleverly mean in his advice to LGBTQ+ fans intent on travelling to the World Cup that they should “respect” Qatar’s culture? Certainly Conservative Party chairman Nadhim Zahawi seemed confused when a day later he stressed that no compromises should need to be made by supporters regarding their sexuality.

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Gary Lineker is among those who’ve criticised Cleverly, mocking him in a tweet: “Whatever you do, don’t do anything Gay. Is that the message?” So maybe Cleverly needs to explain, and the Qataris need to explain, what constitutes acceptable behaviour in their eyes. Perhaps they could collaborate on a list of “don’ts”, borrowing from those posters which used to hang in municipal swimming baths: “No kissing, no petting, no listening at top volume to Village People, Gloria Gaynor and Judy Garland.”

One who’s definitely going, who has to be there because his presence is required by that contract worth £150 million over ten years, is David Beckham. He’s a global ambassador for Qatar and the “face” of this World Cup. He’s supposed to be a gay icon and yet he calls this repressive nation “perfection”. And you thought the man couldn’t get any more fatuous.

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Clearly there is no end to Goldenballs’ self-delusion and egotism. For if we give him the benefit of doubt and try and accept it’s not just about the money for him, then he must genuinely believe that giant posters of his gormless grim, strands of hair artfully arranged around it, can be a “force of good”. That his appearance at Qatar’s top tables, in the poshest seats and at receptions chit-chatting with Cleverly and his pretend mates can change our minds about his paymasters and how they view women, how they treat their labour force and what they think of people who’re just a bit different.

Look who’s not going to Qatar: Prince William. He’s passionate about football. He’s the first Royal to have appeared on the cover of gay mag Attitude. He’s president of the FA. For Gareth Soutgate and Harry Kane, the fact he won’t be at the World Cup is monumentally embarrassing.

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