Earlier this month, the International Federation of Association Football (known as FIFA - from "Fédération Internationale de Football Association") announced that it had picked locations for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup championship events. The 2014 event, which had already been announced, will be held in Brazil. The 2018 event will take place in Russia. The 2022 World Cup? Qatar.
Qatar, where it is illegal to be gay.
Qatar, where such relationships are punishable by up to five years in prison.
Qatar, where in the mid 1990s, a gay American citizen was sentenced to receive 90 lashes during a 6-month prison term.
So what are gay soccer fans - or players, for that matter - supposed to do, when they go to the 2022 World Cup? Simple, said FIFA President Sepp Blatter, when asked at a press conference. "I would say they should refrain from any sexual activities."
Blatter chuckled as he made this statement, and the comment was described by the media as a "joke." But for LGBT sports fans and athletes around the world, this was no laughing matter.
“What’s really at issue here is that FIFA has told lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender sports fans and even, doubtlessly, some of its own athletes that they are not welcome at the 2022 World Cup games,” said GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios. “Global sporting events like the World Cup are supposed to bring people together, not tear them apart. By choosing a host country that bars LGBT people from being who they are, FIFA is sending a message that discrimination is okay and LGBT athletes shouldn’t be valued by their athletic ability."
Blatter went on to say "We are definitely living in a world of freedom and I'm sure when the World Cup will be in Qatar in 2022, there will be no problems. You see in the Middle East the opening of this culture, it's another culture because it's another religion, but in football we have no boundaries. We open everything to everybody and I think there shall not be any discrimination against any human beings be it on this side or that side, be it left, right or whatever."
Earlier this year, Blatter found himself in hot water after saying that a soccer star would have been "applauded" in "Latin Countries" after he admitted to an affair - and this is a man who a few years ago said that female soccer players should wear "more feminine clothes" and "tighter shorts." Still, given that he didn't have a better answer at the ready (even considering his penchant for sticking his foot in his mouth) it seems unlikely that FIFA gave even a moment's thought to Qatar's repressive and dangerous laws regarding LGBT rights before selecting it as home for the 2022 World Cup.
This decision shows a lack of consideration for athletes and sports fans around the world who support LGBT rights, and to those who happen to be gay themselves, it is an especially stinging one.