The chief executive of next year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar has said gay players like Australian Josh Cavallo “have no reason to feel unsafe” at the event despite the country banning homosexuality.
In host country Qatar, homosexuality is illegal and punishable by penalties ranging from flogging to imprisonment and execution.
Adelaide United’s Josh Cavallo was the first active A-League player to come out as gay in October.
Cavallo later told the Guardian he’d be scared to play the tournament in the Gulf nation, due to the anti-gay laws.
LGBTIQ soccer fans in Australia and abroad have also called out Qatar on human rights. Some say they’re refusing to travel to the country for the World Cup.
But Qatar World Cup chief executive Nasser Al Khater has downplayed the laws. He claimed gay fans would be safe albeit if they acted “conservatively”.
“On the contrary, we welcome [Cavallo] here in the state of Qatar. We welcome him to come and see even prior to the World Cup,” he told CNN.
“Nobody feels threatened here, nobody feels unsafe. The notion that people don’t feel safe here is untrue.
“I’ve said this before and I say this to you again, everybody is welcome here… Everybody will feel safe here.
“Qatar is a tolerant country. It’s a welcoming country, it’s a hospitable country.”
He described the negative perception of Qatar as “unfair” but when pressed by CNN, he conceded “public display of affection is frowned upon” in the country.
“[However] that goes across the board. Qatar is a modest country. That’s all that needs to be respected,” he said.
“Other than that, everyone is free to live their life.
“[Gay people] will be coming to Qatar as fans of a football tournament. They can do whatever any other human being would do.
“What I’m saying is Qatar, from a public-display-of-affection factor, is conservative.”
A 2019 “danger index” for LGBTIQ travellers rated Qatar as the second most dangerous place to travel for queer people.
Some Australian fans won’t travel to Qatar World Cup
But many Australian soccer fans are concerned, with some saying they won’t be travelling to the country for the event.
Aussie soccer fan Joseph Roppolo told SBS’ The Feed last month he’d watched the Socceroos play at World Cups in Brazil, South Africa and Germany.
But he won’t be going to Qatar, and said most other LGBTIQ fans he knew wouldn’t either.
“I’m not going to go to a country that puts people like me in jail for something as irrelevant as sexuality,” Joe said.
He said he remembers when Qatar was announced as hosts 11 years ago, describing it as “a kick in the teeth”.
He said he believes the Qatari government is using the World Cup for “sportswashing” – improving its reputation abroad.
‘I’d be on edge the entire time’
Chris Hicks plays for the Sydney Rangers, Australia’s first gay men’s soccer club. He also told SBS he’ll definitely be skipping the 2022 World Cup.
“I’d be on edge the entire time constantly thinking ‘how am I walking? How am I talking?’” he told SBS.
“It is really disappointing that a tournament as revered as the World Cup can be given to a country that doesn’t accept me for who I am.”
He said most people “accept that when you travel to another country there a different cultural norms.”
“But [Qatar’s laws] really hit on a different level.”
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