DOHA: A top Qatari World Cup official has said that transgender and gay fans would be welcomed to the 2022 tournament but stressed that visitors would have to respect Qatari customs.
Homosexual acts are banned in Qatar but the law around transgender people is unclear and the issue is seldom addressed in public life or by the authorities.
“I would like to assure any fan, of any gender, (sexual) orientation, religion, race to rest assured that Qatar is one of the most safe countries in the world — and they’ll all be welcome here,” said chief executive of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Nasser al-Khater.
He was responding to media questions on Wednesday about the position of transgender fans who might want to attend the World Cup but are unclear what legal and human rights protections they will have.
“The safety and security of every single fan is of the utmost importance to us,” Khater said at the al-Janoub stadium, adding that he expected “a little over one million fans” to visit Qatar during the tournament.
“There’s a lot of training going into security personnel to make sure that things that are culturally different are seen in that frame.”
LGBT issues are sensitive in Qatar, as in the rest of the conservative Gulf region. A website that published a story in 2016 by an anonymous Qatari author about being gay, later went briefly went offline in the emirate.
“Public displays of affection is frowned upon, it’s not part of our culture — but that goes across the board to everybody,” Khater said.
Asked about the availability of alcohol during the tournament, he said “Qatar is a conservative country, a modest country. Alcohol is not part of our culture — however, hospitality is.”
– ‘Possibility of altercations’ –
“Alcohol is obviously available here, but it’s not as readily available as in some other parts of the world,” he said. “For the World Cup, we want to make sure it’s accessible for fans that travel from abroad and want to have a drink.
“We’re trying to find designated locations to have alcohol other than traditional locations.”
Currently, alcohol consumption for non-residents is restricted to bars and restaurants in a few dozen luxury hotels and a pint of beer typically sells for more than $10.
Asked about the risk of fans becoming drunk and disorderly and how security forces would respond, Nasser said that “as long as people are happy, that’s fine”.
It is a crime to be drunk in public in Qatar.
“As long as they’re not miserable and too upset, we don’t have any issues,” said Khater.
“But we do have plans for that, our security teams have been working very closely with the authorities… in various countries that have teams that traditionally qualify to the World Cup.”
Nasser said that while he believed hooliganism was declining worldwide, organisers were aware that Qatar presented a different policing challenge to the last two hosts.
“Hooliganism in World Cups has decreased drastically. We saw Russia, no problems whatsoever. Brazil there wasn’t hooliganism, per se. There were other issues that were pertaining to Brazil,” he said.
“We are a small country but we have the numbers necessary to keep the World Cup safe.
“What we’ve seen here is the possibility of altercations between fans because of the size of the country, and a lot of fans being in the same vicinity.”