World Cup 2022: ‘Being a gay fan in Qatar is so taboo that we are invisible’


Phil, 39, is a lifelong football fan who came to Qatar for his fourth consecutive World Cup.

Qatar has said “all are welcome”, but as a gay man visiting a country where same-sex relationships are criminalized, he tells us firsthand how challenging the experience was.

Tuesday 22nd November, 6pm – Heathrow Terminal 5

On the way to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the airport was completely packed with fans from all over the world, but it feels like an ordinary Tuesday here tonight.

I was an England fan long before I knew what the word “gay” meant. My earliest football memories are watching the 1990 World Cup at my grandparents’ house and staying up late to watch England games.

I am aware that my decision to go to Qatar puts me in the substantial minority of England’s gay fans – but if they are serious about the event being for everyone, I will not let Qatar’s despicable stance on LGBT rights stop me from enjoy the competition I love.

I don’t feel like I have to choose between being a gay man and an England fan.

I recognize that I am saying this from a position of extreme privilege. There is a layer of protection that applies to me as a Western foreigner that does not apply to Qatari LGBTQ citizens. That’s what makes me most conflicted.

Wednesday 23 November around 2.30pm – Khalifa Stadium

I’m leaving the stadium after watching my first match, Japan 2 x 1 Germany. A magnificent game.

But it’s all very strange here. There is a sterile atmosphere inside the stadiums, nobody seems to know quite what to do.

Security is managing things closely — there is a designated area to review flags and signs before entering.

Thursday, November 24th, 1:15 am

Tonight, on the subway, I saw a sign saying that football is “a vehicle for respecting human rights”—and the question that remains is: whose human rights?

There are a ton of security inside the stadiums, more than I’ve seen at any of the other tournaments. It’s curious because the atmosphere here seems to be non-threatening. So what exactly are they looking for?

8:10 pm – Souk Waqif

I chatted with a gay supporter from Holland in a bar earlier. Like me, he feels somewhat conflicted about being here.

I also logged into one of my dating apps today and got a bunch of messages from Saudi men. So Qatar can pretend that queer life in the Middle East is dead, but online it’s very much alive.

Saturday, November 26, 00:15 – Al Bayt Stadium

I just watched the England v USA game. At half-time, I bumped into an England fan who was wearing a rainbow ribbon — and asked him if he had any problems getting into the stadium.

Apparently he was searched by three or four different people, but then they said, “Okay now.”

I also saw some US fans with jerseys with rainbow numbers on the back, so I guess we can say that’s a good sign.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that slogan “football is for everyone” since I got here. I think the locals really believe that, they just don’t consider gay fans as part of the equation.

It’s not necessarily homophobic, it’s just such a taboo topic that we’re invisible.

It’s one of the reasons why many of my fellow LGBT fans weren’t able to come — they felt, for understandable reasons, left out.

Around 2.30 pm – Al Janoub Stadium

I’m leaving the stadium at the end of the Australia v Tunisia game.

Just after the break, a group of Tunisian fans unfurled a huge banner reading “Free Palestine”. Nothing wrong with that — it’s just that the authorities talk about leaving politics out of the sport, and a flag that size is allowed by the police in the stadium.

Almost 22:00 – Outskirts of Doha

We watched the France v Denmark game in downtown Doha with groups of Mexican, Argentinian and European fans talking about how this compares to other World Cups.

For me, there are many positives in how Qatar have handled this from a purely footballing perspective, and on the pitch there have been some good matches.

But what always comes to mind is the sheer hypocrisy of the “say no to discrimination” message. I’ve met some people who said, “You’re perfectly safe here, why does it matter that you’re gay?”

I know I’m privileged to be relatively safe compared to the LGBTQ citizens of Qatar, but unless you’re really in our shoes and feeling that uncomfortable feeling of feeling left out, it’s really hard to describe.

Sunday, November 27, 05:15 – Hamad International Airport in Doha

I’m about to board my flight back to the UK, saying goodbye to Qatar.

When Qatar was chosen to host the World Cup in 2010, there was an outcry — but it was more about allegations of corruption, not LGBT rights. Perhaps this is a measure of progress in Europe and the UK.

Have I ever worried about my safety here? Not. I think I would have worried under other circumstances? No, one more time. But do I feel my experience here was compromised by knowing what happens to the local LGBT population? Yes, I feel.

We are told to just “focus on football”, but there are things in life that are more important.

As reported to journalists Josh Parry and Ashitha Nagesh. Phil shared his experience with us via audio messaging in an encrypted messaging app. We are not publishing his full name.

This text was published on the BBC News Brazil page.

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