Qatar FIFA World Cup ambassador and former footballer Khalid Salman has said homosexuality is “damage in the mind,” in an interview with German broadcaster ZDF on Monday.
The interview, filmed in Doha less than two weeks before the start of the tournament, was immediately stopped by an official from the World Cup organizing committee.
During the interview, Salman was discussing the issue of homosexuality being illegal in Qatar.
Salman told ZDF that being gay was “haram,” meaning forbidden according to Islamic law. “It is damage in the mind,” Salman said.
As many people are expected to travel to Qatar for the World Cup, “let’s talk about gays,” Salman said.
“The most important thing is, everybody will accept that they come here. But they will have to accept our rules,” he said, adding he was concerned children may learn “something that is not good.”
Salman was a Qatari football player in the 1980s and 1990s.
He took part in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and has been selected as one of the tournament’s host country ambassadors.
Qatar will host the FIFA World Cup 2022 from November 20 until December 18.
His remarks drew sharp criticism from human rights activist Rasha Younes, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, who called Salman’s comments “harmful and unacceptable.”
“The Qatari government’s failure to counter this false information has a significant impact on the lives of Qatar’s #LGBT residents,” she said on Twitter.
This comes as the awarding of the football tournament to Qatar has been strongly criticized due to the human rights situation in the Gulf state and the treatment of foreign workers.
Earlier this month, football’s world governing body FIFA urged nations participating in the 2022 World Cup to focus on football when the tournament kicks off.
FIFA confirmed to CNN that a letter signed by FIFA President Gianni Infantino and the governing body’s secretary general Fatma Samoura was sent out to 32 nations participating in the global showpiece on Thursday but would not divulge the contents.
“If Gianni Infantino wants the world to ‘focus on the football,’ there is a simple solution: FIFA could finally start tackling the serious human rights issues rather than brushing them under the carpet,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Head of Economic and Social Justice.
“A first step would be publicly committing to the establishment of a fund to compensate migrant workers before the tournament kicks off and ensuring that LGBT people do not face discrimination or harassment. It is astonishing they still have not done so.
“Gianni Infantino is right to say that ‘football does not exist in a vacuum.’ Hundreds of thousands of workers have faced abuses to make this tournament possible and their rights cannot be forgotten or dismissed.
“They deserve justice and compensation, not empty words, and time is running out.”
CNN’s Sammy Mngqosini contributed to this report.