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“I am a man and I like men. I have – please don’t be shocked – have sex with other men. It’s 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.
For the majority of the 15-minute conversation, he spoke in his native German before switching to English, a change he deliberately made, he says, for impact. He wanted the world to hear.
Looking directly at Qatar’s Ambassador to Germany, Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Saud al-Thani, in a room full of dignitaries and sponsors at a human rights conference in Frankfurt organized by the German Association football, he spoke his hard-hitting words. Sitting in the front row, the camera briefly pans over al-Thani and shows him watching and listening to Minden.
“Football is for everyone,” Minden continued. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a lesbian, if you’re gay, it’s for everyone. For boys, for girls and everyone in between… The rule that football is for everyone is so important. We can’t allow you to break it, no matter how rich you are. You are more than welcome to join the international football community and of course to organize a great tournament. But in sports, that’s how it is. You have to accept the rules. »
When Minden finishes, a thunderous applause is heard from some members of the audience.
That he likes men and has sex with men is not a problem in his native country, but it is in Qatar, a country which will host the month-long World Cup from Sunday, the one of the biggest and most lucrative sporting events.
As the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East, it is undoubtedly a historic event, but it is also one clouded by controversy, the deaths of migrant workers and the conditions that many endured as the Gulf State prepared for the tournament, to LGBTQ and women’s rights.
Homosexuality in Qatar is illegal and punishable by up to three years in prison. A report by Human Rights Watch, published last month, documented cases as recent as September where Qatari security forces arbitrarily arrested LGBT people and subjected them to “ill-treatment in detention”.
Speaking to CNN, Minden said he would not go to Qatar and watch the competition on television.
“When we talk about the situation of LGBTQ+ rights, we mean not only football tourists, but also the situation before and especially after the World Cup,” he said.
After the conference, Minden said he spoke privately with the ambassador who he said told him all were 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 said, adding, “Our track record has shown that we have warmly welcomed all people, regardless of background.”
Measures have been implemented to ensure that no form of discrimination occurs, such as human rights training sessions with public and private security forces and the enactment of legal provisions for the protection of all , according to FIFA.
A statement sent to CNN on behalf of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC), which since its formation in 2011 has been responsible for overseeing infrastructure projects and World Cup planning, said that he was committed to “an inclusive process and World Cup without discrimination”, highlighting the fact that the country had, according to him, hosted hundreds of international and regional sporting events since the awarding of the World Cup in 2010.
“There were never any issues and every event was delivered 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 just ask people to respect our culture.
But there were mixed messages with World Cup ambassador and former footballer Khalid Salman saying earlier this month that homosexuality was “a damage in the mind”, in an interview with the TV channel German ZDF.
Asked by CNN to give its opinion to all members of the LGBTQ community traveling to Qatar, FIFA referred to a recent public statement made by Fatma Samoura, the governing body’s general secretary, who said: “No matter your race, your religion, your social and sexual orientation, you are welcome, and the Qataris are ready to receive you with the best hospitality you can imagine.
But for the Englishman Rob Sanderson, respect for cultures is a “two-way street”.
Sanderson is Head of Special Projects for Pride in Football, a network of UK LGBTQ fan groups and one of the groups of supporters who have joined forces in a open letter to condemn both FIFA and the Supreme Committee, refuting the world governing body and Qatar’s claims that it would be a World Cup for all.
He is a regular at England internationals and was once the victim of a homophobic attack, he says, at Wembley four years ago, before England’s game against Spain in 2018, when he had a altercation with another fan. The incident was reported to police and investigated, he said, but there was “not enough evidence” to proceed, he said. But, in large part, he has felt accepted at England matches, where he and his friends wave pride flags celebrating their community and the team.
However, he won’t go 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, all I do is draw a target on the back of a local who is anything other than hostile towards me,” the 34-year-old told CNN.
“I don’t feel comfortable being used as an excuse for any hostility that may exist after the tournament. It doesn’t sit well with me.”
Qatar is not the first controversial host of a major sporting event, or even a soccer World Cup. The latest edition was held in Russia, a country which in 2013 introduced laws banning the “propaganda of non-traditional sex”.
In the run-up to 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 have traveled to Russia, Sanderson says, believing it was safe because Russian society had previously accepted same-sex relationships in post-Soviet and pre-Putin times, none of its members only go to Qatar. . “It’s a totally different environment,” he said.
“They said ‘everyone is welcome’ but they signed that line saying ‘you have to 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 had been sent to the 32 participating nations but would not disclose its contents.
A joint statement released earlier this month by supporter groups Pride in Football, The Rainbow Wall and Three Lions Pride said: “Let’s be clear, talking about human rights is neither ideological nor political. It’s just asking for decency and the ability for people to be able to monitor their teams without fear of abuse.
A number of European federations also released a statement saying they would continue to campaign at the tournament on human rights issues and compensation for migrant workers.
Gareth Bale, once the world’s most expensive footballer and captain of Wales, will wear a OneLove armband during matches in Qatar to support a season-long campaign that promotes diversity and inclusion. Wales is one of eight European World Cup countries supporting the initiative.
Speaking to reporters ahead of his trip to Qatar, the former Real Madrid player said: “We can shed some light on the issues that arise.”
However, Hugo Lloris, captain of France, another team participating in the OneLove campaign, said on Monday he had to “show respect” for Qatar’s culture when journalists asked him to wear an armband in the colors of the Qatar. ‘Rainbow.
“In France, when we welcome foreigners, we often want them to respect our rules and our culture – and I will do the same when I go to Qatar,” he said.
England flew to Qatar on Tuesday in a plane called ‘Rain Bow’ and the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) displays a rainbow logo at the team’s training center in Doha . Speaking to reporters, head coach Gregg Berhalter said: “We recognize that Qatar has made progress and there has been a ton of progress, but there is still work to be done.”
The closer we get to the kick-off of the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador on November 20, the more dissenting voices are heard and the more signs of support for LGBTQ issues are visible.
The World Cup, like the Olympics, puts the host country in the global spotlight. Usually, most controversies are forgotten once the sport begins, but the intensity of the attention to Qatar’s human rights record has been such that it would be surprising if they were all forgotten. at kick-off on Sunday. Next month’s headlines are unlikely to be just about football.