“It’s not safe and it’s not right.” Qatar says all are welcome to the World Cup but some LGBTQ fans are staying away

Editor’s note: A version of this article appears in the Friday edition of CNN’s Middle East Now, a three-weekly look at the region’s biggest stories. Sign up here.


“I’m a man and I love men. I have – please don’t be shocked – have sex with other men. That is normal. So please get used to it, or stay out of football.”

Dario Minden was a relatively unknown German football fan before a video of a powerful speech he gave was widely shared on social media in September.

He spoke in his native German for most of the 15-minute talk before switching to English, a change he made on purpose to make an impact, he says. He wanted the world to hear it.

At a human rights conference in Frankfurt hosted by the German Football Association, he looked directly at Qatar’s ambassador to Germany, Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Saud al-Thani, in a room full of dignitaries and sponsors and spoke his powerful words. Sitting in the front row, the camera pans briefly to al-Thani and shows him looking at and listening to Minden.

“Football is for everyone,” Minden continued. “It doesn’t matter if you’re lesbian or gay, it’s for everyone. For the boys, for the girls and everyone in between… The rule that football is for everyone is so important. We can’t let you break it no matter how rich you are. You are cordially invited to join the international football community and of course to organize a big tournament. But that’s how it is in sports. You have to accept the rules.”

When Minden is over, applause can be heard from some of the audience.

The fact that he loves men and has sex with men is not an issue in his home country, but it is in Qatar, a country that will host the month-long World Cup starting Sunday, one of the biggest and most lucrative events in sport.

Visitors gather at the FIFA World Cup countdown clock in Doha on October 30, 2022.

As the first World Cup in the Middle East, it’s undoubtedly a historic event, but it’s also one marred by controversy, the deaths of migrant workers and the conditions many endured as the Gulf state prepared for the tournament. on LGBTQ and women’s rights.

Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and can be punished with up to three years in prison. A Human Rights Watch report released last month documented instances as recently as September of Qatari security forces arbitrarily arresting LGBT people and “abusing them in custody.”

Speaking to CNN, Minden said he will not be traveling to Qatar and will not be watching the competition on TV.

“When we talk about the situation for LGBTQ+ rights, we don’t just mean football tourists, but also the situation before and especially after the World Cup,” he said.

After the conference, Minden said he spoke privately to the ambassador, who told him that all are welcome in Qatar. But Minden told CNN, “It’s not safe and it’s not right.”

A Qatari government official told CNN in a statement that the World Cup host is an inclusive country. “Everyone is welcome in Qatar,” the statement read, adding, “Our track record has shown that we have offered a warm welcome to all people regardless of their background.”

According to FIFA, measures have been taken to ensure that there is no discrimination of any kind, such as human rights training with public and private security forces and the enactment of legislation to protect everyone.

A statement sent to CNN on behalf of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), which has been responsible for overseeing infrastructure projects and planning for the World Cup since its inception in 2011, said it was committed to “an inclusive and non-discriminatory” World Cup, noting that the country has hosted hundreds of international and regional sporting events since the World Cup was awarded in 2010.

“There was never a problem and every event was conducted safely,” the statement said.

“Everyone is welcome in Qatar, but we are a conservative country and any public display of affection, regardless of orientation, is frowned upon. We simply ask people to respect our culture.”

But there were mixed messages with a World Cup ambassador and former footballer Khalid Salman saying in an interview with German broadcaster ZDF earlier this month homosexuality is “damaging to the mind”.

Responding to CNN’s request for advice for all members of the LGBTQ community traveling to Qatar, FIFA referred to a recent statement by Fatma Samoura, the governing body’s general secretary, who said: “Regardless of your race, your religion, your of social and sexual orientation, you are most welcome and Qataris are ready to receive you with the best hospitality imaginable.”

But for Englishman Rob Sanderson, respect for cultures is a “one-way street”.

Sanderson is secretary of Pride in Football, a network of British LGBTQ supporters’ groups and one of the support groups that have come together into one open letter to condemn both FIFA and the Supreme Committee, and to refute claims by the world governing body and Qatar that it would be a World Cup for all.

A regular in England internationals, he was once the victim of a homophobic attack, he says, four years ago at Wembley, ahead of England’s game against Spain in 2018, when he had an altercation with another fan. The incident was reported to police and investigated, he says, but there was “insufficient evidence” to proceed, he says. But by and large he has felt accepted at games in England, where he and his friends hold proud flags to celebrate their community and the team.

However, he will not travel to Qatar and says if England won the tournament it would be a tarnished trophy.

“I don’t feel comfortable traveling to Qatar and being visible in any way because if I visibly show that I’m an LGBT+ football fan, I’m just drawing a target on the back of a local who is anything but hostile to me,” the 34-year-old told CNN.

“I don’t feel comfortable being used as an excuse for any animosity that would ensue after the tournament. It doesn’t suit me.”

Qatar is not the first controversial host of a major sporting event, or even a FIFA World Cup. The last edition took place in Russia, a country that in 2013 introduced laws banning “propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations.”

Ahead of the 2018 tournament, the UK Foreign Office warned of “increased risks” for members of the LGBT community traveling to Russia.

But while some Pride-in-Football members went to Russia, says Sanderson, who feels it’s safe since Russian society accepted same-sex relationships in the post-Soviet and pre-Putin era, none of its members go to Qatar . “It’s a completely different environment,” he said.

“They said ‘Everyone is welcome,’ but they signed that line with the words ‘You must respect our culture.'”

It has been widely reported that FIFA has urged nations participating in the World Cup to focus on football when the tournament kicks off on Sunday.

FIFA confirmed to CNN that a letter signed by FIFA President Gianni Infantino and Samoura has been sent to the 32 participating nations, but will not reveal the contents.

A joint statement released earlier this month by fan groups Pride in Football, The Rainbow Wall and Three Lions Pride said: “To be clear, talking about human rights is neither ideological nor political. It just calls for decency and the ability for people to watch their teams without fear of abuse.”

A number of European federations also issued a statement saying they would continue to campaign for human rights issues and compensation for migrant workers at the tournament.

The USA team logo is displayed in a room used for briefings during a training session at the team's Doha training camp ahead of Qatar 2022.

Gareth Bale, once the world’s most expensive footballer and Wales captain, will wear a OneLove armband during the Qatar games in support of a season-long campaign promoting diversity and inclusion. Wales is one of eight participating European countries at the World Cup supporting the initiative.

Speaking to reporters ahead of his trip to Qatar, the former Real Madrid player said: “We can shed light on the current issues.”

However, Hugo Lloris, captain of France, another team taking part in the OneLove campaign, said on Monday he had to “show respect” to Qatar’s culture when asked by reporters about wearing a rainbow-colored armband.

“When we welcome foreigners to France, we often want them to abide by our rules and respect our culture – and I will do the same when I go to Qatar,” he said.

England flew to Qatar on Tuesday on a plane dubbed the ‘Rain Bow’ and the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) display a rainbow logo at the team’s training facility in Doha. Speaking to reporters, head coach Gregg Berhalter said: “We recognize that Qatar has made progress and there has been a lot of progress, but there is still work to be done.”

As the opening game between Qatar and Ecuador gets closer to kick-off on November 20, dissent is growing louder and signs of support for LGBTQ issues are becoming more visible.

The World Cup puts the host country in the world spotlight, as does the Olympic Games. Usually, most controversies are forgotten once sport begins, but attention to Qatar’s human rights record has been so intense that it would be amazing if all were forgotten by Sunday’s kick-off. Next month’s headlines are unlikely to be all about football.


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