A Qatar World Cup ambassador has described homosexuality as “damage in the mind” as the country prepares for over a million people to arrive from around the world for the tournament.
In an interview with German television broadcaster ZDF, former Qatari international midfielder Khalid Salman said: “They have to accept our rules here”.
Homosexuality is illegal in the Gulf state, which has led to many players raising concerns about how LGBTQ+ supporters travelling to the event will be treated.
Organisers have repeatedly said “everyone is welcome” but Qatar 2022 chief executive, Nasser al Khater, confirmed the government would not change its laws on homosexuality, and says all visitors are expected to “respect our culture”.
A number of team captains – including England’s Harry Kane – have vowed to wear an armband featuring a rainbow heart to support the community, who rights groups say are being discriminated against through Qatari laws.
This stance will have been further strengthened by the comments of Salman, who went on to say: “(Homosexuality) is haram. You know what haram (forbidden) means?”
When asked to explain why it is haram, Salman said: “I am not a strict Muslim but why is it haram? Because it is damage in the mind.”
Another official promptly stepped in to terminate the interview following this exchange, but organisers of the World Cup have declined to comment.
Germany’s interior minister, Nancy Faeser, was appalled by the interview, saying, “Obviously these comments are terrible.”
She visited Qatar last week and said she received security guarantees from her Qatari counterpart, as well as from the prime minister, that homosexual fans will be protected during the tournament.
Despite Salman’s words, Faeser still expects members of the LGBTQ+ community to be safe in Qatar, saying: “I have no new indications from him (Qatari interior minister) now that anything should have changed in this regard.”
The country’s human rights record has dominated the build-up to the World Cup, with some calling for teams and officials to boycott the event.
Activists gathered outside the FIFA museum in Zurich on Tuesday in support of the LGBT+ community.
England defender Lotte Wubben-Moy, who was part of the Lionesses successful Euro 2022 squad, has said she will not be watching the tournament.
However, she hopes the players heading to Qatar use the opportunity to highlight pressing issues, as “sport is a very strong vehicle for change”.
“It’s a World Cup and, for a lot of these players, they might not ever play in a World Cup again, so I can’t comment on them choosing to go because many people would take that same choice as well,” she said.
“But I think sport is very strong for change and in any way possible that they can use this opportunity to help bring about change, I think that’s important.”