LGBTQ fans could have their rainbow flags confiscated at Qatar 2022 and have been ordered to demonstrate their views in a society “where it will be accepted” by the senior leader who is overseeing security for the tournament.
Major General Abdulaziz Abdullah Al Ansari insisted to the Associated press that LGBTQ couples would be welcomed to Qatar for FIFA’s showpiece tournament from November 21 onwards amid concerns for their safety given that same-sex relations are criminalized in the country.
Yet Al Ansari warned against using the rainbow flag which FIFA and World Cup chiefs had previously said would be welcome in the eight stadiums that will be used for the competition, and stressed that confiscation of the item would be for the brandisher’s own good.
“If he raised the rainbow flag and I took it from him, it’s not because I really want to, really, take it, to really insult him, but to protect him,” Al Ansari said.
“Because if it’s not me, somebody else around him might attack [him] … [and] I cannot guarantee the behavior of the whole people. And I will tell him: ‘Please, no need to really raise that flag at this point.’” added Al Ansari, who is the director of the Department of International Cooperation and Chairman of the National Counterterrorism Committee in Qatar.
“You want to demonstrate your view about the [LGBTQ] situation, demonstrate it in a society where it will be accepted,” Al Ansari suggested, as part of a conversation at the Ministry of Interior with the AP where he discussed planning for the first World Cup in an Arab country.
“We realize that this man got the ticket [and] comes here to watch the game, not to demonstrate, a political [act] or something which is in his mind. Watch the game,” Al Ansari ordered. “That’s good.”
“But don’t really come in and insult the whole society because of this.”
Al Ansari stressed that he is neither telling LBGTQ fans that wish to enjoy the World Cup to stay away nor warning them that they face prosecution in Qatar.
“Reserve the room together, sleep together – this is something that’s not in our concern,” Al Ansari pointed out. “We are here to manage the tournament. [But] let’s not go beyond the individual personal things which might be happening between these people … this is actually the concept.
“Here we cannot change the laws. You cannot change the religion for 28 days of World Cup,” Al Ansari underlined, before brushing off concerns that some fans could be offended by his comments.
“I am risking … a minority view against a majority,” Al Ansari said. “We have to be close to the problem before it erupts and gets out of control. … If somebody attacks you, then I have to get involved and it will be too late,” he concluded.
After reports of rainbow flag confiscations during Euro 2020 last summer, Al Ansari’s comments have already confused the likes of Chris Paouros who forms part of the English FA’s inclusion advisory board and is a trustee with UK anti-discrimination group, Kick It Out.
“This inconsistency and the continued lack of detail in terms of how that will be provided beyond the rhetoric of ‘everyone is welcome’ is concerning to say the least,” Paouros lamented.
Over at FARE, which monitors matches for discrimination in European football, executive director Piara Powar said that “the idea that the flag, which is now a recognized universal symbol of diversity and equality, will be removed from people to protect them will not be considered acceptable, and will be seen as a pretext”.
“I have been to Qatar on numerous occasions and do not expect the local Qatari population or fans visiting for the World Cup to be attacked for wearing the rainbow flag. The bigger danger comes from state actions,” she said.
At the FIFA Congress in Doha this week, FIFA president Gianni Infantino vowed that “everyone will see that everyone is welcome here in Qatar, even if we speak about LGBTQ”.
In 2020, the global governing body’s chief social responsibility and education officer Joyce Cook also guaranteed the AP that rainbow flags and T-shirts “will all be welcome in the stadium”.
“That’s a given,” Cook said. “They understand very well that is our stance.” World Cup chief executive Nasser Al-Khater has also said that “we will respect” FIFA’s guidelines on allowing rainbow flags into grounds, but Al Ansari’s comments go against such stances.
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