The UK’s foreign secretary claimed the host of the World Cup is helping LGBTQ+ people feel safe – despite many fans saying they’ve had their rainbow accessories confiscated.
From England claiming it was forced to backtrack on wearing its anti-discrimination OneLove armband to Wales fans saying they were made to take off multicoloured hats, queer rights are at the forefront of discussion around the tournament so far.
But James Cleverly is convinced Qatar is working on the issue of gay rights after he ‘brought [it] up over a number of years’ with the country.
‘I’ve made it clear that we feel very strongly about this issue and, actually, one of the advantages about having a strong relationship with other countries is you can have these difficult conversations,’ he told the BBC.
‘The Qataris know how seriously we take this issue and they have taken real steps to ensure that gay football fans are safe and do feel secure and can enjoy the football.’
But senior Conservative MP Alicia Kearns, who chairs the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, disagrees and said ‘nothing about their behaviour has changed’ since Qatar won hosting rights in 2010.
‘We should always be hopeful, but I do not meaningfully believe that holding the World Cup in Qatar is going to change anything on the ground,’ she said.
‘Because if it was going to, we wouldn’t have seen human rights abuses taking place, there wouldn’t have been the loss of life that we’ve seen taking place.
‘Qatar has shown since it received the nomination to hold [the World Cup] that nothing about their behaviour has changed domestically or even regards to workers.
‘So I really don’t think, unfortunately – and I wish this was not the case – that we can have any hope that things will meaningfully change.’
England and Wales were among seven European national teams who dropped plans to wear the OneLove armband following the threat of sanctions from Fifa.
‘I urge the team captains at their post-match press conferences to spend just 30 seconds to speak out for the rights of women, LGBTs and migrant workers.
‘That would have a huge impact, reaching a global audience of hundreds of millions of people.
‘Fifa has crushed the OneLove campaign with the threat of yellow cards. It’s time to show Fifa and Qatar the red card.’
Former prime minister of Denmark, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, decided to make a stand and broke regulations to wear a dress with rainbow sleeves while meeting Fifa president Gianni Infantino.
A Danish television journalist was also approached by police and told he could not wear the armband while reporting on the tournament.
Another American journalist claimed he was detained after wearing a rainbow t-shirt.
Laura McAllister, former captain of the Wales women’s team, spoke of her experience being told to take off a multicoloured bucket hat: ‘When we got through security, some of the security guards said we had to take the hat off. When I asked them why, they said because it was a banned symbol and we weren’t allowed to wear it in the stadium.
‘I pointed out that Fifa had made lots of comments about supporting LGBTQ+ rights in this tournament. Coming from a nation where we are passionate about ensuring there is quality for all, I wasn’t going to take my hat off.
‘I know some of the other fans filmed parts of that. They were insistent that unless I took the hat off, we weren’t allowed to come into the stadium.
‘We had to leave it in a lost property area. We were forced to go back out of the stadium and take it to a lost property area.
‘I think I had a little moral victory in that I managed to sneak it in.’
Downing Street said it is closely monitoring the treatment of UK fans at the World Cup.
But several LGBTQ+ supporters have chosen not to travel to the tournament because homosexuality is still illegal – and technically punishable by death – in Qatar.
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