Former footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger, the first Premier League player to come out as gay, has added his voice to the mass of people calling out Qatar over its violation of migrant workers’ and LGBTQ+ rights. The Gulf country is hosting this year’s World Cup, which will kick off on Sunday, November 20.
The German football player came out as gay in 2014 after his retirement, becoming the highest-profile male footballer to do so at the time. In a recent interview with The Guardian, Hitzlsperger spoke out against Qatar hosting this year’s World Cup. “It’s just wrong,” he said, adding: “You see the world we live in: how sick it is that we allowed Qatar to buy the right to send pictures to the world for four weeks, presenting themselves as something they’re not. It’s not just sad, it’s sick.”
The controversy over FIFA’s decision to allow Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup has dominated headlines for weeks, with many criticising the choice due to the country’s track record on human rights. Both male and female homosexuality is criminalised in Qatar and even punishable with the death sentence under Sharia law. Moreover, the state has faced recent criticism over its treatment of migrant workers, as many have reportedly died during construction work ahead of the World Cup.
Speaking about football stars that have chosen to go to Qatar and thus endorse the country hosting the event, Hitzlsperger said: “If I had the option, I wouldn’t: it just doesn’t feel right after what I have seen, the things I have said in public. You can’t be paid by Qatar or FIFA and at the same time criticise them, it doesn’t make sense.”
“People criticise Qatar, but we have to discuss FIFA’s role, those from the former executive committee who took the money,” he added. “Because if no one would take it, if no one received it, Qatar would have a problem. But the greed in the football business is just immense.”
Thomas Hitzlsperger 🗣️
“We have allowed Qatar to buy the right to present themselves as something they’re not. It’s not just sad, it’s sick.”
— Total Villa (@Total_Villa) November 17, 2022
Hitzlsperger is not the only LGBTQ+ football star that has publicly spoken out against Qatar and this year’s World Cup. In an interview with Vogue published a few days ago, gay football pro Jake Daniels claimed that he would back a boycott of this year’s World Cup and that he was not happy that it was held in an anti-LGBTQ+ country.
English pro player Beth Mead also said that she won’t be “backing or promoting” the Qatar World Cup due to the country’s stance on LGBTQ+ rights and she was followed by Republic of Ireland Women’s National Team captain Katie McCabe, who confirmed that she will not travel to nor watch the event this year.
Australian openly gay player Josh Cavallo also criticised this year’s host decision due to safety reasons for LGBTQ+ people, saying: “It’s not me that I’m worried about. It’s those ones that are messaging me. It’s those people that aren’t in the public eye that are scared to even be themselves and walk the streets”. He added, “To see that we’re heading to a country that’s criminalizing people like myself… It’s quite concerning”.
Many teams participating in the tournament are taking a stance in support of the LGBTQ+ community in Qatar as they prepare for the matches. The US team will wear a rainbow-themed logo while in their training facility in Qatar, which is also currently decked out in the Pride Progress flag colours.
Moreover, eight European football teams, including the Netherlands, England, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Switzerland and Wales teams, will be wearing armbands from the OneLove campaign, aimed at promoting inclusivity during the 2022 World Cup. The British team will also be flying to Qatar in the Virgin Atlantic’s so-called “rainbow plane”, which is decorated with the Pride flag and the word #Rainbow.
After announcing his sexuality last year, Josh Cavallo said that he would be “scared” to play in Qatar, where same-sex activity is prohibited.
Gay Australian footballer says World Cup shouldn't be going to Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal pic.twitter.com/gecOFD7lPO
— Terri Jensen (@TerriJe10682472) November 15, 2022
And with the opening ceremony being only a couple of days away, the public attention is also focusing on who will take the stage, de-facto endorsing the Gulf country hosting the tournament. Some stars like Rod Stewart have refused to participate in the ceremony, turning down concerts that were potentially worth millions of dollars. Instead, others, such as Nicki Minaj, Shakira and Robbie Williams came under fire after it was announced that they might perform at the World Cup.
After rumours of her participation spread online, British singer Dua Lipa strongly denied her support for the event and put out a statement, saying: “I will not be performing and nor have I ever been involved in any negotiation to perform. I will be cheering England on from afar and I look forward to visiting Qatar when it has fulfilled all the human rights pledges it made when it won the right to host the World Cup.”
Dua Lipa clears rumors about performing at the opening ceremony of the World Cup in Qatar.
‘I will not be performing & nor have I ever been involved in any negotiation to perform […] I look forward to visiting Qatar when it has fullfilled all the human rights pledges it made’ pic.twitter.com/Ca7DA9H1bC
— Pop Base (@PopBase) November 13, 2022
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