When Pride season was in full swing earlier this year, corporate rainbows were everywhere. Brands jostled for prime position in the world’s biggest parades, their logos splashed across floats and limited edition launches.
This wasn’t just about the summer, they said, but a commitment to supporting the LGBTQ+ community year-round.
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, and could lead to seven years in prison. All LGBTQ+ people have been criminalised, with sexual activity between men in particular potentially resulting in the death penalty.
In 2013, the Qatar government claimed everyone was welcome to attend the World Cup. However, it recommended not participating in public displays of affection because they were “not part of our culture and tradition”. More recently, foreign secretary James Cleverly told British fans they should be “respectful” of Qatar’s anti-homosexuality laws.
It’s why comedian Joe Lycett has given David Beckham an ultimatum over the footballer’s multi-million pound World Cup deal. (Lycett says he’ll give £10,000 to LGBTQ+ charities if Beckham pulls out – and if he doesn’t, the comic said he’ll shred the money instead).
But Becks isn’t the only one getting pally with a country with an abysmal human rights record. You’ll see the likes of Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Adidas among the sponsors, though each has previously made a commitment to support the LGBTQ+ community.
So, we asked these brands two very simple questions:
1. Why are they sponsoring the Qatar World Cup?
2. How would they respond to criticism that this undermines their LGBTQ+ inclusivity pledge?
Here’s what they had to say for themselves:
Coca-Cola: ‘We see the potential to inspire’
Just a few months ago, Coca-Coca was an official sponsor London and Brighton Pride 2022. At the time, the brand said “recognising, valuing, and supporting employees from the LGBTQ+ community is an important priority”. It also launched 136 digital Pride collectables (NFTs).
So, why is the company sponsoring Qatar?
A Coca-Cola spokesperson told us they believe sport has the “unique potential to bring the world together and be a force for good”.
“We are a long-time supporter of football and through our event partnerships, such as the FIFA World Cup, we see the potential to inspire and unite people,” they said.
In response to our second question, they added: “We strive for diversity, inclusion and equality in our business, and we support these rights throughout society as well. Our experience has shown that change takes time and must be achieved through sustained collaboration and active involvement.
“We have long supported the LGBTQI+ community, and we will continue our work to respectfully advocate for our values through our policies and practices throughout the world.”
Adidas: ‘We believe that sport is for all’
Adidas launched a whole range of Pride-themed products this year, including the trainers above, which were apparently “inspired by the Stonewall Activists of the Stonewall Uprising in 1969”.
Since 1970, Adidas has been supplying the official match ball for all FIFA World Cup matches – and the Qatar tournament will be no different.
In response to our questions, the brand gave HuffPost UK the following statement: “We believe that sport is for all. We have strongly advocated for unrestricted access for all visitors regardless of nationality, religion, sexual orientation or ethnic background. We expect the World Cup to be fully accessible to all visitors. If there are any infringements, we will pursue the matter.”
Budweiser: ‘[There are] circumstances beyond our control’
The 2022 World Cup has got off to a rocky old start for Budweiser. Though alcohol isn’t illegal in Qatar, drinking in public without a licence can result in imprisonment.
Certain venues can acquire an alcohol permit to allow drinking, but the host nation banned the sale of alcohol anywhere near the eight World Cup stadiums in a sudden change of policy just 48 hours before the opening match. Shortly after the announcement, Budweiser tweeted – then deleted: “Well, this is awkward.”
Budweiser, which is part of the world’s largest brewing company, has previously sponsored Pride in London and has released various limited edition Pride products over the years. When we contacted Budweiser’s parent-company, AB InBev, a spokesperson addressed the recent alcohol ban, rather than answering our questions relating to LGBTQ+ pledges.
“As partners of FIFA for over three decades, we look forward to our activations of FIFA World Cup™ campaigns around the world to celebrate football with our consumers,” they said. “Some of the planned stadium activations cannot move forward due to circumstances beyond our control.”
Hyundai: ‘Committed to maintaining the strongest ethical standards’
In an advert released in June this year, Hyundai said it “supports the journey of the LGBTQ+ community. Not just during Pride Month, but 365 days a year”.
Yet the company has decided to stick with tradition in sponsoring the FIFA World Cup, which it has done since 1999.
In response to our questions, a spokesperson said: “Hyundai Motor believes in the power of sport to bring people together from all nations and is committed to maintaining the strongest ethical standards.
“We expect FIFA to continue its initiatives with host countries to fully respect human rights and continue to monitor its endeavours to do so closely.”
Visa: ‘No comment’
In 2019, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation named Visa one of the “best places to work for LGBTQ equality”, which only makes their Qatar deal more surprising. The company is also a regular at Pride parades both sides of the Atlantic, and their corporate website state’s they want to create “a place where everyone is accepted everywhere”.
As an official sponsor of the tournament, Visa has been less vocal about Qatar’s record on LGBTQ+ rights. The brand’s advert for the FIFA World Cup states that Visa is “for fans everywhere”, though some fans may disagree.
Visa acknowledged our questions but declined the opportunity to comment.
McDonald’s – no response
It seems the marketing team at McDonad’s can’t resist a limited edition burger, whether they’re sponsoring Copenhagen Pride (above left) or the Qatar World Cup (right).
The brand’s corporate website has a whole section dedicated to LGBTQ+ inclusivity. ”‘Livin It’ is an ethos that informs everyone that they deserve to belong and be welcomed warmly, honestly, and openly,” it says.
McDonald’s did not respond to multiple requests for comment on its involvement with the World Cup.