So here we are, just two weeks before the World Cup, with FIFA President Gianni Infantino and Secretary General Fatma Zamoura landing in the lap of the football confederations competing in the tournament in Qatar and sending their call to arms.
The email arrived at around 7pm on Thursday night (UK time) and within three hours it was leaked and onto the Sky News website.
“Please, let’s focus on football now!” Infantino and Samura begged.
The pair added: “We know that football does not live in a vacuum and we know that there are many challenges and difficulties of a political nature around the world.
“But please don’t let football get dragged into every ideological or political battle there is.”
So the message was clear. Keep your head down, know your place, stay still and stick to the footing.
For those unfortunate enough to follow Infantino for a living, the new frontiers of football’s transformative power may come as a surprise.
That’s the opposite of, for example, a moment earlier this year that could only be described as Peak Infantino. The stage was Davos, the Swiss Alpine resort, and the World Economic Forum in May. For the uninitiated, Davos is a sort of self-important hell made for Infantino, where the world’s wealthiest and most privileged gloat about their own ability to cleanse the world of any and all ills.
FIFA’s website followed Infantino’s appearance with the headline “FIFA President: Football can change the world”.
Infantino said: “(Nelson) Mandela said that sport can change the world, it can inspire, it can unite, and he was right with that. As the most popular sport in the world, soccer has a unique approach.
Just over five months on and Infantino’s revolutionary zeal seems to have deserted him. Thursday night’s article did not directly address any of the most controversial aspects of this year’s World Cup in Qatar, particularly the treatment of migrant workers who built the stadiums, and gay laws that threaten the safety of LGBT+ Qataris and visitors. Demands for FIFA to take a stand on Iran, which supports Russia with drone attacks on Ukrainian soil, not to mention the ongoing protests in the country over women’s rights.
But the letter seemed to strongly suggest that it would be unwise for conferences to focus on such topics.
The letter continued: “At FIFA, we strive to respect all opinions and beliefs without giving moral lessons to the rest of the world.
“One of the world’s great strengths is actually its diversity, and if inclusion means anything, it means respecting that diversity. No people or culture or nation is ‘better’ than any other.
“This principle is the cornerstone of mutual respect and non-discrimination. And this is one of the core values of football. So, please let’s all keep that in mind and let football take center stage. “
At this point, it might be helpful to remind Infantino about how the world works. When he pleads that football not be dragged into the battle of “every ideology”, he should say that homosexuality is not an ideology. It is how a person is born; It’s in us, it’s who we are, it’s who I am. If we accept that a person’s sexuality is inherent, that it is a matter of nature rather than nurture, then we know that criticizing or criminalizing a person’s sexuality is patently irrational.
However, Infantino’s words argue that the “inclusion” of respect for homosexuality has the same value as the “inclusion” of respect for the criminalization of homosexuality.
This argument suggests that true tolerance is tolerance of violent and harmless intolerance. It means that the worldview of two loving women who are married and raise children together has equal value, for example Salah al-Yafi. The man describes himself as an “educational consultant” at Qatar’s Aspire Academy, home to some of Qatar’s most talented young sports stars. He has 60,000 Instagram followers and a recent video stated: “When faced with openly promoting homosexuality, the disapproval of your expression and behavior has a huge impact on children because this is deviant and sends the message to them that this is something we have to do. . It’s not accepted.” This is the shameful life inflicted on gay people in Qatar, where homophobic rhetoric treats a person’s natural state as a disease to be suppressed at best or at worst cured.
A fortnight after the tournament, Infantino’s words have gone down like a cold bucket with those who believe broadcasters, media, confederations and journalists should be free to scrutinize the hosts of the world’s most popular sporting event. As such, it’s not only sad content, but also dumb stupidity as a strategy, alienating those who want to be on FIFA’s side in the coming weeks.
But the reality is that Qatar’s enablers, eager to preserve their ties, often do the state more harm than good. British Foreign Secretary James Cleverley, for example, recently told a radio station that British LGBT+ people traveling to Doha should be “flexible and compromise” if they travel during the World Cup. It’s hard to resist Cleverley’s gentle apology for the close entanglement of British business interests in Qatar, whether it’s the £1.5 billion ($1.7 billion) in British contracts involved in the tournament or British RAF aircraft. Defending the skies or Britain has sold £6 billion worth of Typhoon jets to Qatar in recent years. In that context, the plight of LGBT+ people in Qatar seems like an afterthought.
The truth is that it remains a footnote to the game itself. For example, when the competition was awarded to Qatar in 2010, we must remember that the Premier League was a few years out from its annual rainbow lace campaign, which was only introduced after a publicity stunt kicked the competition kicking and screaming. Power from the bookies. In recent years, as the World Cup approaches, the vast majority of national confederations have done nothing to raise concerns about the situation for LGBT+ Qataris and traveling fans. For example, the English Football Association signed a memorandum of understanding in 2018 with the Qatar FA and Orwellian Supreme Committee for Handover and Legacy. Greg Clarke, the chairman at the time, appeared in front of the English FA’s “Football” and announced the ties. For All” logo — after zero consultation with English LGBT+ football supporters. Those memos remain unchanged till date.
Since then, Qatari authorities have produced very few reports over the years to certify LGBT+ citizens or visitors. They often say vague phrases like “everyone is welcome,” but the message is always cautionary, insisting that visitors respect Qatari culture, which leaves people like me traveling to the tournament unsure of the state’s meaningful stance on key issues. For example, what to write about LGBT+ issues while on the ground in Doha over the next month? In the absence of clarity in Qatar, we find ourselves in the absurd situation of the English FA’s football executives speaking for another state’s law enforcement agency.
Therefore, we heard from the chief executive of the English FA, Mark Bullingham, who brought the news that LGBT+ couples holding hands in Qatar will not be prosecuted at the end of September. “They’ve given us the right answers to anything we’ve talked about,” Bullingham appeared to praise the tournament hosts.
When we step back from the surrealism of this tournament, isn’t it completely baffling for a football body to tell us how a country intends to enforce its penal code when that country is so reluctant to declare such matters itself? We have the absurdity of landing this endorsement in September, eight weeks before the tournament, when English gays Qatar wait 12 years after a winning bid for courtesy FA approval, then start saving tickets and buying tickets two months in advance. The World Cup begins.
If Bullingham is so confident of the host’s welcome, why is England’s (and other European nations’) proposed declaration of support for LGBT+ people at the tournament only consisting of an armband with the slogan “One Love”? This shows a colorful design that is not commonly recognized as a rainbow as a symbol of the LGBT+ community. If the hosts are so generous, so inclusive and open to conversation, why doesn’t it proclaim “gay rights” or state Qatar’s anti-homosexuality laws? Why don’t these federations of freedom fighters clearly identify the people they claim to represent?
Perhaps an answer to the backlash appeared in Thursday’s I newspaper, where a gay Qatari man revealed he was lured into a hotel room via a dating app and found Qatari officials waiting to assault him when they arrived. According to the report, they raped him before arresting him.
However, according to Gianni, everyone returns to football.
(Top photo: Stephen McCarthy – FIFA / FIFA via Getty Images)