A World Cup, hosted by an oil-producing state, in a part of the world not traditionally considered a footballing powerhouse and where same-sex relations are illegal. Welcome to USA ‘94, held a decade before the Supreme Court struck down America’s last anti-sodomy laws.
I digress. A mere 12 years after Qatar was awarded the right to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup, it has suddenly come to our attention that the country, like at least 66 others around the world, criminalises same-sex conduct. Indeed, it is in a select group, one of seven to maintain the death penalty as punishment for the ‘crime’.
When Khalid Salman, Qatar’s World Cup ambassador, called homosexuality a “damage of the mind” last week, he was widely condemned. But in fairness to the ambassador, he was simply restating government policy. I mean, what were you expecting?
Fifa members had the opportunity not to award the World Cup to Qatar in 2022 or indeed Russia in 2018. They declined. And while suspicion has long haunted the bidding process for both tournaments, the Qataris deny all allegations, that bribes were paid for votes.
The point is, Qatar did not hide its laws when it came to LGBTQ people, women or migrant labourers. Looking back on the reaction at the time, there was umbrage in the British press about England losing out to Russia, and plenty of reasonable questions about the practicalities of hosting a football tournament in the desert summer. But there was little mention of human rights.
Our growing concern is in part a consequence of proximity. Much as how we’ve only got serious about climate change when we started to feel its effects, the World Cup kicks off on Sunday. But I think the fact that questions are being asked now is also indicative of how we have changed.
In much of Europe, the Americas and Australasia, public attitudes towards LGBTQ people have undergone an unprecedented shift. People have changed their minds before, but rarely this quickly. No major party in Britain put equal marriage in their 2010 general election manifesto. It was law three years later.
It’s not just LGBTQ rights. In 2010, women’s football was still perceived as a niche pursuit, even after England reached the final of Euro 2009. This year, the Lionesses sold out Wembley, generating wall-to-wall coverage.
It’s a shame that many fans have concluded that they cannot safely attend the World Cup, though that sacrifice feels insignificant compared with the reality facing many LGBTQ people, women and migrants living in Qatar and other repressive regimes.
Is now the perfect time to protest, or is it virtue-signalling? I’m not sure it’s either. We can’t undo what’s been done. The sportswashing process is well underway. But I take heart from the fact that we purport to care more about human rights now. The test will be whether next time, when the votes are cast, we make a different choice.
Farewell to a politician who got it
Nancy Pelosi, who is standing down as US House Democratic leader after two decades, understood what few politicians do: the purpose of winning power is to pass laws.
One example: in January 2010, the Democrats lost a Senate seat. Not any seat, but their 60th, meaning the Republicans could filibuster healthcare reform. Some pronounced it dead. Not Pelosi.
A week later, the Speaker declared with such confidence she may even have believed it herself, “If the gate is closed, we will go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we will pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we will parachute in. But we are going to get healthcare reform passed”.
And they did. The Democrats lost the House that year. . But millions of people still have healthcare. Pelosi corralled her caucus like no other — and did it all without a silly pet spider.