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Gary Lineker hits out at foreign secretary's advice to gay football fans in Qatar

  • James Cleverly was asked how whether gay football fans will be safe in Qatar

  • Male homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, with a punishment of up to three years in prison and a fine and the possibility of death penalty for Muslims

  • It comes as LGBT campaigner Peter Tatchell claims he was arrested in Qatar for staging a protest

  • Read the full article to find out what advice the foreign secretary has given to gay people in Qatar – and the reaction to his comments

James Cleverly said gay football fans should 'respect Islamic cultural norms' in Qatar. (Getty)
James Cleverly said gay football fans should 'respect Islamic cultural norms' in Qatar. (Getty)

Gary Lineker is among those to have led criticism of the foreign secretary after he said gay football fans who travel to Qatar for the upcoming World Cup should make every effort to “respect Islamic cultural norms”.

James Cleverly was asked about the safety of LGBT+ football fans in Qatar after campaigner Peter Tatchell was stopped by police while staging a protest in the country in the run-up to the tournament.

Cleverly said he had not spoken to the government of Qatar, but confirmed he was being supported by the Foreign Office.

When asked about other gay people who travel to the country in the coming months, Cleverly told LBC that Qatari authorities “want to make sure that football fans are safe, secure and enjoy themselves”, and that “they are going to have to make some compromises in terms of what is an Islamic country with a very different set of cultural norms to our own”.

The comments have sparked a swift backlash, with former England football captain Gary Lineker tweeting:"Whatever you do, don’t do anything Gay. Is that the message?”

Former Leicester City player and BBC pundit Gary Lineker with the FA Cup Trophy final match at the King Power Stadium, Leicester. Picture date: Sunday March 21, 2021.
Gary Lineker was among those to criticise James Cleverly's comments. (PA)

Lucy Powell, Labour’s shadow culture secretary, described Cleverly’s comments as “tone deaf” while the SNP branded them "abhorrent".

Cleverly said: “One of the things I would say for football fans is, you know, please do be respectful of the host nation.

“They are trying to ensure that people can be themselves and enjoy the football, and I think with a little bit of flex and compromise at both ends, it can be a safe, secure and exciting World Cup.”

Watch: LGBT campaigner Peter Tatchell stages rare protest in capital of Qatar

But responding, Powell said: “Sport should be open to all. Many fans will feel they can't attend this tournament to cheer on their team because of Qatar's record on human, workers, and LGBT+ rights.

"The government should be challenging FIFA on how they've put fans in this position, and ensuring the full safety of all fans attending, not defending discriminatory values."

Robbie de Santos, director of communications and external affairs at Stonewall, told Yahoo News UK: "LGBTQ+ people in Qatar are criminalised and persecuted for simply existing and cannot compromise who they are.

"It's vital that the international community, including FIFA, make clear that they expect Qatari authorities to respect and uphold freedom of assembly and expression and the rights of all, including LGBTQ+ people."

Kirsten Oswald, the SNP's Women & Equalities Spokesperson, said: "Foreign secretary seems in essence to be advising people travelling to the world cup in Qatar to show some respect and not be gay. This is abhorrent."

Daniel Sohege, director of refugee rights group Stand For All said Cleverly's comments were not "far off the advice routinely given by the Home Office to LGBTQ+ asylum seekers, who he says are told: "Don't show you are gay".

Lib Dem councillor Ross Shipman claimed that Cleverly was essentially saying gay football fans should "compromise on their sexuality", while comedian James Barr tweeted: "This is incredibly disappointing. You would NEVER say to straight people to be respectful of a host country if straight people were being killed."

In a video released on Tuesday, Tatchell claimed he was “subjected to interrogation” while detained for 49 minutes after carrying out the demonstration outside the national museum in Doha.

The 70-year-old activist thanked the public for messages of support and said he would be returning to the airport soon, having been released earlier in the day.

His aim was to draw attention to the country’s treatment of the LGBT community, women and migrant workers, he said.

A man sells balloons in Doha on October 25, 2022, ahead of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup football tournament (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP) (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images)
Preparations are ramping up Doha ahead of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup. (Getty)

“But the most important thing is this protest was to shine a light on the abuse of human rights in Qatar. This is the first ever LGBT+ protest in Qatar or any Gulf state”, he added.

The Peter Tatchell Foundation, a human rights organisation run by the activist, said he had been holding up a placard reading: “Qatar arrests, jails & subjects LGBTs to ‘conversion’ #QatarAntiGay.”

Qatar’s government communications office said: “Rumours on social media that a representative from the Peter Tatchell Foundation has been arrested in Qatar are completely false and without merit.

“An individual standing in a traffic roundabout was cordially and professionally asked to move to the sidewalk, no arrests were made.”

Earlier this year the government announced they would be supporting Qatar with military capabilities – included air support from the RAF – to help counter terrorism fears surrounding the World Cup.

Britain also sold around £6b worth of typhoon jets to the country as part of the package of support.