Almost 12 years ago, Qatar shocked the world and won the right to host the world’s biggest soccer tournament.
Then FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced that it would be the first country in the Middle East to host the tournament in 2022, with Australia among those overlooked.
Australia received just one vote after spending more than $40 million on its bid.
But there was a problem; Qatar’s human rights record.
Homosexual activity is a criminal offense in Qatar and is punishable by imprisonment or even death.
But the Organizing Committee for this year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar has said so SBS News LGBTIQ+ fans will not be discriminated against during the tournament.
Fans of the German men’s soccer team hold up signs at Wembley Stadium during last year’s Euro 2020. Source: Getty / Markus Gilliar – GES sports photo
Fatma Al-Nuaimi, Executive Director of Communications for the tournament’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, says Qatar has hosted around 600 international events since it received hosting rights and claims there has not been a single incident of discrimination.
“We assure everyone that everyone is welcome,” Ms Al-Nuaimi told SBS News.
“Anyone can come, enjoy the games and support their team, regardless of their origin, religion or gender.”
According to Fatma Al-Nuaimi, Qatar has hosted around 600 international events since it received the rights to the FIFA World Cup.
However, fans are not so sure. James Cardall has no interest in attending the second FIFA World Cup in a row.
Mr Cardall, the president of Pride Football Australia, says it is “shameful” that FIFA has awarded back-to-back editions of the tournament to countries [Russia and Qatar] who he believes have a “dark and bad” opinion of the LGBTIQ+ community.
“Considering that they call football the global game, that’s pretty hypocritical,” he said.
More than a million people are expected to travel to Qatar for this year’s FIFA World Cup. But for the 500 members of Pride Football Australia, it’s a journey none of them will make.
“We don’t feel locked in, we actually feel left out of the tournament itself,” Mr Cardall said.
“I think it’s also a pretty bad performance from FIFA and Qatar.”
FIFA, the governing body of world football, remains confident the promises of the inclusion will be met, adding that fans are free to fly rainbow flags at matches.
“We have received the necessary guarantees, we are training all the officials, we are working hand in hand with the government, with the police authorities, everyone will be welcome,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said at the Qatar Economic Forum at the end of June.
Nasser Al-Khori, head of Generation Amazing, a social and human legacy initiative for the tournament’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, said Qatar is more progressive than its neighbors but hopes all visitors would respect Qatar’s culture and traditions .
“We want to show the world that we are a kind of progressive state in the region,” Mr Al-Khori told SBS News.
“We’re modernizing, but in our own way and sticking to our identity, our culture, our roots.”
Nasser Al-Khori says Qatar wants to show the world it is a progressive Middle Eastern state Recognition: Adrian Arciuli
The messages surrounding the culture follow those of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.
When asked about the rights of visitors from the LGBTIQ+ community earlier this year, he said: “We welcome everyone, but we also expect and want people to respect our culture”.
But Rasha Younes, a researcher with Human Rights Watch’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights program, wrote in a Canadian newspaper last month: “Qatar’s constant reference to ‘culture’ to deny the rights of LGBT people “.
“‘Culture’ should not be used as a cover for discourses, practices and laws that have effectively banned content related to sexual orientation and gender identity from public view.”
When Qatar received host rights in 2010, the country had a population of just 1.85 million. Since then it has grown to nearly 3 million. The total area of the Gulf nation is only 11,751 square kilometers, making it smaller than Sydney.
By all accounts, hosting the FIFA World Cup was a landmark opportunity for Qatar – the first in the Arab world to do so. It required significant development with a workforce to match.
Thousands of migrants were conscripted to complete the work in time, but many were killed on the job, according to human rights groups.
Amnesty International Australia researcher Nikita White says it is unclear exactly how many workers died building infrastructure related to the FIFA World Cup.
“Unfortunately, Qatar does not publish statistics on workers who have died,” Ms White said.
“What we do know is that thousands of people have died working on the World Cup and we know that unfortunately their deaths were not properly followed up by the Qatari authorities.”
“Often they are very fit, healthy young men and they die after working really long hours in extreme conditions and extreme heat, but their deaths are registered as natural.”
The tournament’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy acknowledges fatalities have occurred but says Qatar has implemented significant reforms to protect workers’ rights, including the abolition of the kafala system.
The system tied workers to their employer, who was responsible for the worker’s visa and legal status. Human rights organizations have criticized the system, which has led to employers withholding passports from workers.
“I’m not saying we’re perfect,” Mr Al-Khori said.
“But there have been important developments and changes in labor laws that are in favor of workers.”
Australia’s Socceroos will play their World Cup group stage matches at Qatar’s Al Janoub Stadium. Recognition: Sidhik Keerantakath/Eyepix Group/Future Publishing via Getty Images
Amnesty International has asked FIFA to allocate US$440 million ($631 million) to allegedly compensate hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who have suffered human rights abuses.
“She [FIFA] are to do [US]6 billion dollars [$8.6 billion] away from this World Cup. So $440 million is a drop in the ocean,” Ms. White said.
Australia will play all three group stage games against France, Denmark and Tunisia at Al-Janoub Stadium in Al-Wakrah, around 20 minutes’ drive from Qatar’s capital, Doha.
Teams, including the Socceroos, are considering highlighting the human rights issue in Qatar by taking a stand together when the tournament begins on November 21.
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LGBTIQ+ Australians seeking mental health support can contact or visit QLife on 1800 184 527 . also has a list of support services.