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‘Football is for everyone’: Qatar ambassador faces LGBT-rights appeal ahead of World Cup

Qatar’s ambassador to Germany was urged on Monday to abolish his country’s death penalty for homosexuality at a human rights congress organized by the German football federation, two months before the Middle East country is set to host the World Cup.

Fan representative at the Congress in Frankfurt, Dario Minden, switched to English to address Qatar’s ambassador Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Saud Al Thani directly.

“I’m a man and I love men,” Minden said. “I do – please don’t be shocked – have sex with other men. It’s normal. So please get used to it, or stay away from football. Because the most important rule in football is football that’s for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re lesbian, if you’re gay. It’s for everyone. Boys. Girls. And everyone in between.”

Minden continued: “Therefore abolish the death penalty. Eliminate all punishments regarding sexual and gender identity. The rule that football is for everyone is very important. We can’t allow you to break it, no matter what you do.” No matter how rich. You are welcome to join the international football community and, of course, host a big tournament. But that’s what happens in sports. You have to accept the rules.”

Al Thani was later to be given a chance to respond, although his comments were to remain off the record. Only the initial 90 minutes of the federation’s congress were broadcast to the public and no journalists were invited to the event.

Federation spokesman Stephen Simon said it was not the organization’s decision to keep the congressional majority off camera, but that “we received explicit requests from some participants that they wish to discuss these matters internally with us. Didn’t want to discuss the issue. We respected that.”

Qatar’s laws and society have come under scrutiny over the past decade. Major General Abdulaziz Abdullah Al Ansari, a senior leader overseeing security for the tournament, previously told The Associated Press That rainbow flags could be taken from fans at the World Cup in Qatar to protect them from attack for promoting gay rights.

Al Ansari stressed that LGBTQ couples would still be welcome and accepted in Qatar for the World Cup, despite the criminalization of same-sex relationships in the conservative Gulf country.

Before Minden spoke on Monday, Al Thani complained to Congress that the human rights issue was diverting attention from the tournament.

“We care about all human rights. But if I had focused not only on one topic, but the enjoyment of football and the impact of football on people around the world, I would have enjoyed (it) more,” said Al Thani.

Ambassador mentioned the last World Cup in Russia, its invasion and annexation of Crimea Ukraineand human rights abuses in that country, “and it was not noticed, neither by Germany, nor by any country in Europe.”

Al Thani said Qatar has ended the controversial Kafala system that requires migrant workers to have a sponsor, a system that has left many workers vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, and that the country has claimed the workers. Minimum Working Wage and Compensation Fund has been introduced to rights infringement.

“Yes, we are not perfect. We are not claiming that we are perfect, but this is a journey we will write,” said Al Thani.

The ambassador invited football fans to visit himself to “enjoy football, see different cultures”, and meet migrant workers upon arrival. “You will see them in hotels. You will see them in public transport. Ask them,” said Al Thani.

He then referred to Bayern Munich’s long-standing sponsorship deal with Qatar.

“Bayern Munich has been coming to Doha for a winter camp for the last four or five years. Why don’t they speak out? Why don’t they say that they have been to Doha? (If) they think it is appalling, say it publicly or keep quiet,” Al Thani said. “Because you know, you have the ability to be there. You have the ability to meet people, talk to them. If you think something is wrong, say, don’t hide behind the bush.”

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