British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is receiving backlash for suggesting gay soccer fans should be “respectful” in Qatar when attending the FIFA World Cup set to take place in the Gulf Arab state later this year.
Speaking to LBC Radio on Wednesday, Cleverly said he had spoken with authorities in Qatar – where homosexuality is criminalized – who “want to make sure that football fans are safe, secure and enjoy themselves.”
He continued: “And they know that that means they are going to have to make some compromises in terms of what is an Islamic country, with a very different set of cultural norms to our own.
“One of the things I would say to the football fans is, you know: ‘Please do be respectful of the host nation.’
“They [Qatar] will try – they are trying – to ensure that people can be themselves and enjoy the football and I think with a little bit of flex and compromise at both ends, it can be a safe, secure and exciting World Cup,” the foreign secretary added.
New UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman distanced themselves from the comments, saying, “We wouldn’t expect [LGBTQ fans] to compromise who they are and you’ll know the UK has very clear rules around this. Qatar’s policies are not those of the UK government and not ones that we would endorse.”
Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell of UK’s main opposition Labour party slammed Cleverly’s comments, calling it “shockingly tone deaf” in a tweet.
“Where do you draw the line on that?” she said in an interview with LBC Radio. “Two football fans going as a couple can’t hold hands? Can’t kiss? Can’t show their love to one another?”
England LGBTQ+ supporters group 3LionsPride tweeted: “With respect, this is an extremely unhelpful intervention that shows a lack of understanding and context.
“To insinuate that an acceptable and proportionate safety measure is to ‘be less queer’ forces us back into the closet and risks mental health crises.
“It also is not an option for everyone. Some trans and gender diverse fans don’t have the option of ‘being less visibly queer.’”
A report from Human Rights Watch published Monday documented cases as recently as September of Qatari security forces arbitrarily arresting LGBT people and subjecting them to ill-treatment in detention.
A Qatari official told CNN that the HRW allegations “contain information that is categorically and unequivocally false.”
LGBTQ+ representation at Qatar 2022
On Tuesday, British LGBTQ activist Peter Tatchell protested by himself outside the Qatar national museum ahead of the World Cup.
Reuters news agency reported that two uniformed officers and three plain clothes officials arrived at the scene of the protest and folded up a sign Tatchell was holding and took pictures of his passport and other papers and those of a man he was with.
Police shook Tatchell’s hand and left, leaving the activist on the sidewalk, Reuters said. Tatchell shared video on Twitter showing a man in plain clothes speaking to him and taking his sign away.
Tatchell told Doha News later that police did question him. He also said that he feared being detained and physically abused by the police but neither happened. Tatchell said the police were polite.
In September, Eight European football teams – the Netherlands, England, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Switzerland and Wales – announced that they will participate in a season-long “OneLove” campaign promoting inclusion and opposing discrimination.
Each captain of these eight nations will wear a distinctive OneLove armband – which features a heart containing colors from all backgrounds – during the tournament.
The Netherlands FA, which is spearheading the campaign, chose the colors to represent all heritages, backgrounds, genders and sexual identities; the armband will be worn in Qatar where same-sex relationships are a criminal offense.
“This is an important message which suits the game of football: on the field everybody is equal and this should be the case in every place in society. With the OneLove band we express this message,” said Virgil van Dijk, the Netherlands captain, at the time.
“On behalf of the Dutch team, I have been wearing this band for quite a while now. It is good to see that other countries are joining this initiative.”
“I am honored to join my fellow national team captains in supporting the important OneLove campaign,” England captain Harry Kane said.
“As captains we may all be competing against each other on the pitch, but we stand together against all forms of discrimination.
“This is even more relevant at a time when division is common in society. Wearing the armband together on behalf of our teams will send a clear message when the world is watching.”
CNN’s Issy Ronald, Sammy Mngqosini and Wayne Sterling contributed to this report.