Here we are, almost two weeks before the World Cup and FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Secretary General Fatma Samoura send their call to arms, landing in the laps of football federations competing in the tournament in Qatar.
The email arrived around 7pm (UK time) on Thursday night and within three hours it was leaked and found its way to the Sky News website.
“Please, let’s focus on football now!” Infantino and Zamora asked.
The couple continued: “We know that football does not live in a vacuum and we are immediately aware that there are many challenges and difficulties of a political nature around the world.
“But please don’t allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists.”
The message was therefore clear. Head down, know your place, keep quiet and stick to your feet.
For those unfortunate enough to follow Infantino for a living, the newfound limitations of football’s transformative power may come as a surprise.
This is a contrast, for example, to a moment earlier this year of what can 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 the kind of self-important hellscape made for Infantino, where the world’s most wealthy and privileged ruminate on their own potential to cleanse the world of any and all ills.
The FIFA website followed Infantino’s appearance with a report entitled “FIFA President: Football can change the world.”
Infantino said: “(Nelson) Mandela said that sport can change the world, that it can inspire, that it unites, and he was right about that. Football, as the most popular sport in the world, has a unique reach. .
Just over five months and Infantino’s revolutionary zeal seems to have left him behind. The letter Thursday night did not directly mention any of the most controversial aspects of this year’s World Cup in Qatar, notably the treatment of the migrant workers who built the stadiums, the homophobic laws that threaten the safety of LGBT+ Qataris and visitors, As well as the calls for FIFA to take a stand against Iran, whose drones are supporting Russia in attacking Ukrainian territory, not to mention the current protests going on in the country around women’s rights.
But the letter strongly indicated that it would be unwise for the Federation to focus on such topics.
The letter continued: “At FIFA, we try to respect all opinions and beliefs without giving moral lessons to the rest of the world.
“One of the great strengths of the world is indeed its very diversity, and if inclusion means anything, it means having respect for that diversity. No one people or culture or nation is ‘better’ than any other.
“This principle is the basis of mutual respect and non-discrimination. And it is also one of the core values of football. So, please let us all remember this and let football take center stage.
It might, at this point, be helpful to remind Infantino just how the world works. When he claims that soccer should not “get involved in any ideological” battle, perhaps he needs to be told that homosexuality is not an ideology. It is the way a man is born; It is in us, it is who we are, it is who I am. If we accept a person’s sexuality as inherent, that it is a matter of nature rather than nurture, we also recognize that to criticize or criminalize a person for their sexuality is manifestly irrational.
Infantino’s words, however, seem to argue that the “inclusion” of respecting homosexuality is of equal value to the “inclusion” of respecting the criminalization of homosexuality.
The argument seems to be that true tolerance means tolerance of violent and harmful intolerance. This means that the world base of two loving women, married and raising children together, is of equal value to that of, for example, Salah al-Ifei. The man describes himself as an “educational consultant” at Qatar’s Aspire Academy, which houses Qatar’s most talented young sports stars. He has 60,000 Instagram followers and one recent video said: “With the open promotion of homosexuality, the disapproval in your expression and attitude has a great impact on children, because it conveys the message to them that this is something that is deviant and we should. not accept it.” This is the life of shame that has been brought to gay people in Qatar, where homophobic rhetoric treats the natural state of a person as a disease that must be suppressed at best or, at worst, cured.
Two weeks ago of the tournament, Infantino’s words went down like a bucket of cold sick with those who believe that broadcasters, media, federations and journalists should have the freedom to examine the hosts of the most popular sports tournament in the world. As such, it is not only lamentable in content, but also dumbfoundingly stupid as a strategy, alienating those who FIFA may want to keep on side in the coming weeks.
But the fact is that Qatar enables, so eager to protect their relationships, often do the state more harm than good. Take, for example, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who recently told a radio station that British LGBT+ people traveling to Doha should “flex and compromise” if they visit during the World Cup. It is hard to resist the conclusion that Cleverly’s ivy apology is the result of British business interests being closely linked in Qatar, whether it is the £1.5 billion ($1.7 billion) worth of British contracts linked to the tournament, or the British RAF planes. Protecting the skies, or the £6 billion of Typhoon jets Britain has sold to Qatar in recent years. In this context, the plight of LGBT+ people in Qatar is an afterthought.
And the truth is that it remains a footnote to the sport itself. We should remember, for example, that when Qatar was awarded the competition in 2010, the Premier League was still a few years away from its annual rainbow laces campaign, which was introduced after the competition was dragged kicking and screaming into it by a publicity stunt Trick. From the bookmakers Paddy Power. In recent years, as the World Cup has drawn closer, the vast majority of national federations have done almost nothing to raise concerns about the situation for LGBT+ Qataris and traveling fans. The English Football Association, for example, signed a memorandum of understanding with both the Qatar FA and the Orwellian-named Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy in 2018. The then chairman Greg Clarke announced the ties while posing in front of the English FA’s ” Football for All” logo – yet zero consultation with English LGBT+ football supporters. Those memoranda remain intact to this day.
Since then, the Qatari authorities have offered very little on the record over the years to reassure LGBT+ citizens or visitors. They often say vague phrases like “everyone is welcome” but always guard the message with an insistence that visitors must respect the Qatari culture, which leaves people like me, traveling to the tournament, unsure about the state’s meaningful position on key issues. What would happen, for example, should I write about LGBT+ issues when I’m on the ground in Doha during the next month? In the absence of Qatari clarity, we are left in the absurd position where football executives from the English FA speak on behalf of another state’s law enforcement agency.
As such, we heard from Mark Bullingham, the chief executive of the English FA, who broke the news in late September that LGBT+ couples holding hands in Qatar will not be prosecuted. “They absolutely told us all the right answers for everything we talked about,” Bullingham said, appearing to praise the tournament’s hosts.
Stepping back from the surrealism of this tournament, isn’t it utterly baffling that a football organization tells us how a country intends to apply its penalty code when the country is so reluctant to say such matters for itself? Then we have the absurdity of this reassurance landing in September, eight weeks before the tournament, as if the English guys have been waiting 12 years since Qatar’s winning bid for a civil FA knock to start saving and scrambling for tickets two months before the World Cap kicks off.
And if Bullingham is so confident in welcoming the host, what is the English (and other European nations) proposed statement in support of LGBT + people at the tournament that only consists of an armband with a “One Love” slogan? This shows a color scheme that may not be the rainbow commonly recognized as a symbol of the LGBT+ community. If the hosts are so generous, so inclusive and so open to dialogue, why doesn’t it say “gay rights” or invoke Qatar’s laws against homosexuality? Why won’t the federations of freedom fighters clearly recognize the people they claim to want to stand up for?
Perhaps an answer to the backlash in the I newspaper came Thursday, where a gay man in Qatar revealed that he was led to a hotel room by a dating app and found Qatari officials waiting to attack him upon arrival. They raped him, the report said, before arresting him.
Anyway, as Gianni says, back to the football everyone.
(Top photo: Stephen McCarthy – FIFA / FIFA via Getty Images)