FIFA’s male-dominated World Cup fails to represent its diverse fan base, but those fighting for equality will persevere.
Not too long ago, I wrote an article for The Gordian Magazine celebrating the growth of women’s football in the UK, and hailing 2022 as a watershed year in women’s sport around the world. Now, just a few months later, nothing seems further from the truth. In choosing to host one of the world’s biggest sporting competitions in Qatar this year, a country run on Sharia law and plagued by inequalities, FIFA has let the world know that football remains the domain of straight men.
“The wrong kind of man”
Members of the LGBT community in Qatar could face more than a decade in prison and homosexual acts could technically be punished by death. Human Rights Watch found that, as recently as September, LGBT people have been arrested by Qatari forces and subjected to ‘ill-treatment in detention’. A danger index compiled in 2019 to guide LGBT travellers rated Qatar as the second most dangerous place to travel for queer people.
Despite these obvious human rights abuses, FIFA chose, not only to award the men’s World Cup to Qatar in the first instance, but also to support Qatar’s homophobia by banning all captains from wearing rainbow armbands in support of LGBT people and the ‘One Love’ movement.
I love sex with other men… get used to it or get out of football.
Lifelong fans of football, both allies and members of the LGBT community themselves, have rallied against this decision. German football fan and activist Dario Minden made an impassioned speech to Qatar’s ambassador to Germany, Abdullah bin Mohammed telling him ‘I love men. I do… please don’t be shocked… have sex with other men. That’s normal. So please get used to it or get out of football.’
The shocking reality is that there are no gay football players at the 2022 Men’s World Cup. There is only one openly gay man in top-flight football, Australia’s Josh Cavallo, who says he would be ‘scared’ to play in Qatar and feels excluded from this World Cup.
He says: “At the end of the day the World Cup is in Qatar and one of the greatest achievements as a professional footballer is to play for your country; and to know that this is in a country that doesn’t support gay people and puts us at risk of our own life, that does scare me”. Several closeted top-flight footballers have reached out to Cavallo, afraid to come out and live their authentic lives.
In 2009, Brazilian player Richarlyson Barbosa Felisbino was accused of being gay by a rival team. The charges were thrown out by a judge who claimed, ‘football was a virile masculine sport and not a homosexual one.’ Recently, he came out as bisexual.
In January 2019, top-flight Brazilian player Douglas Braga claimed he quit football at just 21 because he claimed it was not possible for him to be both gay and a footballer. Douglas Braga had a promising future, it’s possible that he could have played for Brazil in this World Cup. It’s a very uncomfortable truth that FIFA has shown that Braga was probably right; being an out gay man having sex with a male partner at this World Cup, would have risked his safety.
Now, Braga does vital work coaching a team in the Brazilian league for gay men. LiGay is just one example of a footballing community of LGBT members who will continue to fight for equality in the sport despite FIFA’s decisions.
40% of the online abuse levelled at male football players globally in 2021, was homophobic. If we have any chance of changing this staggering statistic, grassroots movements like LiGay are vital and deserve the support of the world’s footballing association.
Women too boycotted this world cup
Likewise, in its decision to award the World Cup to Qatar, FIFA has made the statement that women spectators of the support are not important. Despite both Qatar and FIFA being very clear in saying that female supporters are welcome in their stadiums, many women have taken the decision not to go.
Founder of the female football fan platform This Fan Girl turned down free tickets and expenses to attend the tournament claiming, ‘It was a no-brainer…I am happy to sit this one out.’ Indeed, many people have taken to social media to say that they noticed a significant lack of women.
So strange to see no women in the Qatar crowd, no families just all men…#WorldCup— jolene hammonds (@Joeytweeting) November 20, 2022
There are good reasons for women to boycott this world cup. Whilst female spectators are allowed into the stadium, if this World Cup was being held in another country, Qatari women would have to ask their male guardians to travel to attend. Within the guardianship system, women must ask permission of their male guardian, typically a husband, father, brother or even son, to study, drive and travel. Women must provide proof of marriage to receive sexual health or antenatal care, and prosecutions for sexual or domestic violence are virtually zero. These risks are faced by visitors to the country in equal measure.
In 2020, 13 Australian women were forcibly removed from Qatar Airways and forced to undergo unnecessary, invasive internal examinations.
In June 2021, female Mexican World Cup official Paola Schietekat reported being violently sexually assaulted in Doha and was met with a three-hour interrogation and calls for a virginity test. Her attacker accused her of being in a romantic relationship with him and she became ‘the accused’. As the case progressed, it was clear that the focus was on a supposed extra-marital affair, and Paola was threatened with up to seven years in prison, and 100 lashes.
FIFA claims that this World Cup is safe for women. Despite this, it encourages female spectators to ‘dress properly’ and those who don’t could face jail. Niyas Abdulrahiman, the Chief Technology Officer for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, warned that ‘We have high-resolution special cameras to zoom in on a particular seat and clearly see the spectator. It’s being recorded, so that will help us in any post-event investigation.’
It is evident that, like members of the LGBT community, women travelling to Qatar for this World Cup are putting themselves at risk. FIFA have given anyone other than straight men a sobering choice: risk their own personal safety or be excluded from this World Cup.
Why was Qatar chosen to host the 2022 World Cup?
Like with most global problems, the explanation is to follow the money. In 2011, the Sunday Times broke the story that Bin Hamman, Qatari football official and President of the Asia Football, had paid $5 million in bribes to get support for his bid.
The host for the World Cup is chosen by a ballot system where the FIFA Congress votes. Each of the 211 member states of the FIFA Congress is allotted one vote, and bids are accepted after it is determined that the potential host country is willing to build the necessary infrastructure.
Bin Hamman allegedly paid up to $200,000 into the accounts of 30 African football associations to induce their representatives in the FIFA Congress to vote for Qatar. Hamman also allegedly paid $1.6 million into the account of Jack Warner, the then Vice President of FIFA. $450,000 of this was before the World Cup vote. Warner was one of 22 people who allowed the Qatari bid to succeed.
In addition, FIFA benefited from a $400m TV rights deal with Al Jazeera, offered just 21 days before the vote and they promised an extra $100 million if the bid was successful.
Finally, French FIFA Congress representative Platini switched his vote to Qatar after meeting with the Emir of Qatar. Qatar later bought out Paris Saint-Germain, increased its stake in a French Media group and bought up many of the rights to French football.
It is evident that many individuals and state associations have benefited from Qatari money, and later decided to support Qatar’s bid, despite its short football history and documented human rights abuses. Allegations of corruption in FIFA are widespread and is often an explanation proposed to answer the question of why FIFA invited all of the controversies in allowing Qatar to host the World Cup 2022.
Some wealthy straight men would like to think that they own football.
Globally, women’s football associations, grassroots projects and gay football teams are working hard to show them that isn’t true. FIFA have thrown this work back in their faces; by prioritising finances over the true spirit of football, they have shown that global football is not inclusive. They risk the safety of their gay and female fans and have prevented many, including allies, from supporting the tournament.
This article didn’t even touch on Qatar’s horrendous treatment of the foreign workers who built the infrastructure necessary to host the 2022 World Cup, where estimations for the death toll reach the tens of thousands.
Despite FIFA’s protestations, this is the world cup of straight, wealthy men; football has failed to include a considerable proportion of its fans, and it will suffer for it. Despite this, those fighting for equality will persevere.
Alex Scott you legend pic.twitter.com/Tvzei6sh5s— Ali Tweedale (@alitweedale) November 21, 2022
Alex Scott, ex-England Women’s player in the photo above, chose to wear the rainbow ‘One Love’ armband, in support of LGBT people whilst commentating, despite the considerable personal risk to her safety.
If you agree that this world cup is morally corrupt, please support the Women’s World Cup in Australia & New Zealand in 2023, which will continue to fight for equality in football, showing that every fan and player matters.