Here we are, almost two weeks before the World Cup, and FIFA president Gianni Infantino and general secretary Fatma Samoura are sending their call to arms into the laps of the football federations competing in the tournament in Qatar.
The email arrived at around 7pm (UK time) on Thursday night and within three hours it had leaked and found its way onto the Sky News website.
“Please, let’s focus on football now!” Infantino and Samoura prayed.
The pair continued: “We know that football does not live in a vacuum and we are equally aware that there are many challenges and difficulties of a political nature around the world.
“But please don’t let football get dragged into every ideological or political battle.”
So the message was clear. Keep your head down, know your place, be quiet and stick to your feet.
For those unfortunate enough to follow Infantino’s livelihood, the newfound limits of football’s transformative power may come as a surprise.
That’s the opposite of, say, 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 self-evident hellscape created by Infantino, where the world’s richest and most privileged ponder their potential to cleanse the world of all ills.
Following Infantino’s speech, FIFA’s website published a report titled “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. As the most popular sport in the world, football has a unique reach.
A little over five months on, Infantino’s revolutionary fervor seems to have left him. The letter on Thursday night did not directly mention any of the most controversial aspects of this year’s World Cup in Qatar, notably the treatment of migrant workers who built stadiums, homophobic laws that threaten the safety of LGBT+ Qataris and visitors, and calls for FIFA to take a stand on Iran, whose drone aircrafts support Russia in destroying the territory of Ukraine, not to mention the current women’s rights protests in the country.
But the letter seemed to hint that it would be unwise for the federations to address such topics.
The letter continued: “At FIFA, we strive to respect all opinions and beliefs without giving moral lessons to the rest of the world.
“One of the world’s greatest assets is indeed its diversity, and if inclusion means anything, it means respecting that diversity. No people, culture or nation is “better” than any other.
“This principle is the cornerstone of mutual respect and non-discrimination. And that is also one of the basic values of football. So please remember that and let football take center stage.
At this point, it might help to remind Infantino how the world works. When he asks football not to be dragged into every ideological battle, maybe he should say that homosexuality is not an ideology. This is the way one is born; it’s in us, it’s who we are, it’s who I am. If we accept human sexuality as inherent, that it is a matter of nature, not nurture, then we also recognize that criticizing or criminalizing a person for their sexuality is patently irrational.
However, Infantino’s words seem to argue that the “inclusion” of the dignity of homosexuality is equally valuable as the “inclusion” of the dignity of criminalizing homosexuality.
The argument seems to be that true tolerance means being tolerant of violent and harmful intolerance. This means that two loving women who are married and raise children together have an equal worldview, such as Salah Al-Jafei. The man describes himself as an “educational consultant” at Qatar’s Aspire Academy, home to Qatar’s most talented young sports stars. He has 60,000 followers on Instagram and one recent video said: “When confronted with open promotion of homosexuality, your condemnation of the way you express yourself and your behavior has a big impact on children because it sends the message to them that it’s something deviant and we shouldn’t do it to do. don’t accept it.” Such is the life of gay shame in Qatar, where homophobic rhetoric treats the natural human condition as a disease to be suppressed at best or cured at worst.
Two weeks after the tournament, Infantino’s words have gone down like a cold bucket with those who believe broadcasters, media, federations and journalists should be able to scrutinize the hosts of the world’s most popular sporting tournament. As such, it’s not only pathetic content, but also a bafflingly stupid strategy that alienates those who FIFA might want to stick around for the next few weeks.
However, the reality is that Qatar’s promoters, who are so eager to protect their relationship, often do the country more harm than good. Take, for example, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverley, who recently told a radio station that British LGBT+ people traveling to Doha need to “adapt and make concessions” if they attend the World Cup. It’s hard to resist the conclusion that Cleverley’s meek apology is the result of close ties to British business interests in Qatar, whether it’s £1.5 billion ($1.7 billion) worth of British contracts linked to the tournament or British RAF jets . protecting the skies, or the £6 billion worth of Typhoon jets Britain has sold to Qatar in recent years. In this context, the plight of LGBT+ people in Qatar appears to be an afterthought.
And the truth is that it remains a footnote to the sport itself. For example, it must be remembered that when Qatar were awarded this competition in 2010, the Premier League was still several years away from its annual rainbow lace campaign, which was introduced only after the competition was dragged in kicking and screaming with a publicity stunt. from bookmakers Paddy Power. In recent years, in the run-up to the World Cup, most national federations have done little to raise concerns about the situation for LGBT+ Qataris and traveling fans. For example, the FA signed memoranda of understanding in 2018 with both the Qatari FA and the Orwell-named Supreme Delivery and Legacy Committee. The then chairman, Greg Clarke, announced the links while posing in front of the English FA’s ‘Football’ film. For All’ logo – after zero consultation with England’s LGBT+ football supporters. These memoranda have remained intact to this day.
Since then, Qatari authorities have offered very little over the years to reassure LGBT+ citizens or visitors. They often say vague phrases like “everyone is welcome” but are always careful about the message, insisting that visitors must respect Qatari culture, which leaves people like me going to the tournament in the dark about the country’s meaningful stance on key issues. What will happen, for example, should I write about LGBT+ issues when I’m in Doha next month? In the absence of Qatar’s clarity, we are left in the absurd situation of the English FA’s football chiefs speaking for another country’s law enforcement agency.
And so we heard from Mark Bullingham, the chief executive of the English FA, who announced at the end of September that LGBT+ couples holding hands in Qatar would not be prosecuted. “They’ve given us all the right answers to everything we’ve talked about,” Bullingham said, praising the tournament hosts.
When we step back from the surrealism of this tournament, isn’t it completely baffling that a football body is telling us how a country plans to apply its Criminal Code when that country is so unwilling to declare itself on such matters? Then we have the absurdity of this confidence landing in September, eight weeks before the tournament, as if English gays had waited 12 years since Qatar’s victory for a polite nod from the FA to then start saving and saving for tickets two months before the tournament. The World Cup begins.
And if Bullingham is so confident of hosting the host, why does England’s (and other European countries’) proposed statement in support of LGBT+ people at the tournament consist only of a wristband with the slogan “One Love”? It shows a color design that does not appear to be the rainbow that is 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 mention “gay rights” or revoke Qatar’s anti-homosexuality laws? Why won’t these freedom fighter federations clearly recognize the people they claim they want to enlist?
Perhaps the answer to the reticence came in Thursday’s I newspaper, where a gay man in Qatar revealed he was lured to a hotel room using a dating app and found Qatari officials waiting to attack him upon arrival. They raped her, the report said, before arresting her.
Anyway, as Gianni says, back to football.
(Top photo: Stephen McCarthy – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)