'World Cup in Qatar has ruined it for me as a gay fan - but I'm not boycotting'

'World Cup in Qatar has ruined it for me as a gay fan - but I'm not boycotting'

Updated: 6 days, 38 minutes, 27 seconds ago

Avid football fan Rob Sanderson has been forced to support his team from home as he felt unsafe flying to Qatar - he says the victory for whoever wins the World Cup 2022 will be smeared

Exclusive: 'World Cup in Qatar has ruined it for me as a gay fan - but I'm not boycotting'

The World Cup controversially being hosted in Qatar is one thing, but the confusing rules around what has been allowed is another. Rob Sanderson, 34, who is gay, is a huge football fan and wanted to fly out to the peninsular Arab country to support England.

But he says he was forced to stay at home because of the lack of reassurances for the safety of LGBT+ people. As a Norwich City FC season ticket holder, football means a great deal to him and was key to maintaining a relationship with his father after coming out, as it is one of the only interests they have in common.

Rob is a volunteer on the committee at Pride in Football - a network of UK LGBT+ fan groups who actively work together to eliminate LGBT+ discrimination in football.

Image:

Rob Sanderson)

Rob Sanderson)

Image:

Rob Sanderson)

Rob Sanderson)

He has often travelled for the sport - including the 2019 UEFA Nations League matches - alongside other LGBT+ fans as a part of 3 Lions Pride (fan group for LGBT+ England supporters), some of which were in the stadium cheering on England in the World Cup in Russia in 2018. While there are some LGBT+ supporters boycotting this year's competition, Rob thinks otherwise.

He doesn't feel guilty for watching it - as after all, it wasn't the fans or the players that chose Qatar - but he in fact feels guilty for not being out there - a decision which he felt was out of his hands.

The UK Government travel advice for the World Cup contains no specific warning beyond stating that homosexuality is illegal in Qatar.

It adds the message that host authorities have stated that "everyone is welcome".

But those who could be at risk of persecution needed more than that in order to assess their risks.

Acts of male homosexuality see the punishment of up to three years in prison and the possibility of a death penalty for Muslims under Sharia law, with LGBT+ people facing the real threat of being arrested, beaten and forced into conversion therapy in the Gulf state.

"We were waiting on reassurances but that didn't happen at all," Rob, who is self-employed, says.

Image:

Natacha Pisarenko/AP/REX/Shutterstock)

Natacha Pisarenko/AP/REX/Shutterstock)

"The line we got was you're all welcome but you must respect the culture. We went back and said what does this actually mean, what will and won't be allowed? And where? So we can make a clear decision in advance as to whether this is actually a viable option or not.

"I couldn't make an informed decision against the official advice.

"I will happily respect their culture - I won't be jumping up and down having a pride parade on the way to the stadium but it's a two-way street.

"By me respecting yours, you need to respect that I'm free to be who I choose to be. And give me an assurance that as long as I play by certain rules you'll leave me alone."

Since the competition kicked off this week, there has already been a number of instances that have raised questions over who ultimately is in charge at this World Cup - Fifa or the Qatari authorities.

Fifa - the international governing body of association football - on Thursday ruled that the rainbow flag, which represents the LGBT+ community, "will not be prohibited" at stadiums for the next round of matches.

It came after footage circulated online of fans and media representatives having solidarity flags and armbands confiscated by stadium security.

Downing Street said the treatment of UK fans at the World Cup is being closely monitored after rainbow bucket hats were taken from Wales supporters in Qatar.

Former Wales team captain Laura McAllister, who is an ambassador for her country at the tournament, was among a number of supporters told to remove the hats.

Asked about the incident, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Obviously it's not the approach that this Government would take if we were hosting any tournament.

"LGBT rights are a fundamental part of the United Kingdom.

"We have raised concerns about LGBT visitors with the Qatari authorities at all levels leading up to the tournament and obviously we will continue to monitor it carefully."

But late on Thursday, the Football Association of Wales (FAW) said Fifa has confirmed that fans will be able to wear Rainbow Wall bucket hats and rainbow flags inside the stadium for Wales v Iran on Friday.

In a statement, they said: "In response to the FAW, Fifa has confirmed that fans with Rainbow Wall bucket hats and rainbow flags will be allowed entry to the stadium for Cymru's match against Iran on Friday.

"All World Cup venues have been contacted and instructed to follow the agreed rules and regulations.

"The FAW urges Fifa to adhere to their message that everybody will be welcome in Qatar during the World Cup and continue to highlight any further human rights issues.

"We remain with the belief that football is for everyone."

Image:

PA)

PA)

Meanwhile, England's Football Association had sought Fifa approval to wear the OneLove armband at the World Cup in Qatar as far back as September when the year-long campaign began, but received no reply.

But at the 11th hour before England's opening game against Iran on Monday afternoon, captain Harry Kane was told he could face a yellow card if he went onto the pitch sporting the band.

Fifa was again heavily criticised over the matter. It only announced its plan for an approved armband on Saturday, and even then, it stated the 'no discrimination' part of its campaign would only begin at the quarter-final stage. On Monday that position shifted.

It also followed a late U-turn on alcohol sales within stadium perimeters last Friday.

The last-minute changes show just how volatile the situation could have been if Rob was out over there.

He says Monday's decision over the One-Love prohibition was "horrible".

"The response from the public was well, 'it's a bit cheap from the players to just roll over and take it,'" Rob begins.

"It's difficult - a part of me agrees with that but I have to recognise that it's not worth seeing a team stand up to Fifa for doing something they said they wouldn't do. It should be challenged off the pitch."

In the case of Germany, the German Football Association (DFB) is taking Fifa to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) over its ban.

The repercussion is bigger for their team as DFB lost one of its commercial partners when German supermarket Rewe ended its sponsorship over the armband dispute.

Image:

Bagu Blanco/Pressinphoto/REX/Shutterstock)

Bagu Blanco/Pressinphoto/REX/Shutterstock)

Unlike England, the German team had more time to think about a response, and it saw them cover their mouths during their team photograph ahead of their opening match.

Germany head coach Hansi Flick said his players wanted to "convey the message that Fifa is silencing us".

Rob hopes that when it comes to the England v Wales match next Tuesday, they can work together to take a bigger stand.

"I don't think we will see anything by Friday [England v USA] but I would have thought that English and Welsh football associations would be working together," he predicts.

"Because there is such a close relationship, they can jointly oppose any sanction.

"Events such as the World Cup, Euros, all these sporting events bring together communities from all over the world regardless of faith, sexuality, gender, or nationality.

"We're all coming together to celebrate sport and the people that bring those events together have a responsibility to promote tolerance and acceptance and equality.

"We don't expect them to change the law, we would never expect for Qatar to say 'it's not illegal anymore', but that platform should be accessible to all no matter what, you shouldn't need to repeatedly ask and have protests in solidarity to be able to even get an answer to a question."

Image:

Rob Sanderson)

Rob Sanderson)

The distressing ongoings haven't stopped Rob from tuning into his favourite sport at home.

He disagrees with Manchester Pride, along with others including Birmingham, Brighton and London Pride, that have called on their supporters to boycott the World Cup - and for their call on bars and venues to not show the matches.

"Those venues are traditionally safe spaces for the community - to ask them to not show the games, it's doubling down on discrimination and excluding them," Rob states.

"I've felt guilty not being able to go to the World Cup. Football is a big part of my life, nothing compares to how it actually feels being in the stadium. You can't replicate that.

"The England fans did not choose where the World Cup was based. Our players didn't choose where."

While Rob is cheering the Three Lions on, he reckons even if they win, their success will be smeared.

The exigent controversies surrounding its host of Qatar - with abhorrent human rights laws on top of allegations of modern slavery - have ruined it for him, and for millions of others - with 62 per cent of British people believing Qatar's stance on gay rights alone should have been enough to bar it from hosting, according to a survey by More in Common.

"If England wins this World Cup, it will forever be tainted in my mind the fact that I felt that it was unsafe for me to follow my team and I didn't get a seat in the World Cup because of corrupt organisations and a Qatari Government with ideals very much removed from my own that decided that I wasn't allowed to," Rob adds.

"Whoever wins, there will be an asterisk forever."

Are you an LGBT+ football fan supporting the game or otherwise? Please get in touch at saffron.otter@reachplc.com to share your story.

Read More

Read More

Read More

Read More

Read More