'Shame on FIFA': Peter Tatchell hits out at World Cup organisers in Qatar protests

25 October 2022, 13:55 | Updated: 25 October 2022, 18:12

Peter Tatchell in Qatar
Peter Tatchell in Qatar. Picture: Twitter/Peter Tatchell

By Kit Heren

Veteran LGBT activist Peter Tatchell has criticised FIFA for awarding Qatar the World Cup, after he claimed he was arrested on Tuesday in the Gulf state for staging a protest against the homophobic regime that is putting on the football tournament in November.

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Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, and punishable by up to three years in prison - and even the death sentence for Muslims, although there are no verified cases of anyone being executed for being gay in Qatar.

Mr Tatchell, 70, stood in front of the Qatar national museum in Doha for 35 minutes on Tuesday with a placard claiming that "Qatar arrests, jails and subjects LGBTs to 'conversion'."

Peter Tatchell in a protest in London in 2018
Peter Tatchell in a protest in London in 2018. Picture: Getty

Two uniformed police officers and three plain-clothes officials came up to him and took his placard away. Mr Tatchell said he was arrested, and told to leave the country. Qatar has denied he was arrested.

Speaking to LBC after his arrest, Mr Tatchell said he staged the protest in solidarity with gay people in Qatar.

"Think about what it’s like to be gay in Qatar," he said. Mr Tatchell said that LGBT people in the country would face arrests and harassment from police.

Peter Tatchell speaks to Shelagh Fogarty, after protesting in Qatar

"For FIFA to give such a country the right to hold such an event is really shocking...

"Shame on FIFA", he added.

Speaking before his protest, Mr Tatchell said: “There can be no normal sporting relations with an abnormal regime like Qatar. It is a homophobic, sexist and racist dictatorship.

“Qatar cannot be allowed to sportswash its reputation. It is using the World Cup to enhance its international image. We must ensure that the tyrant regime in Doha does not score a PR victory.

Peter Tatchell in a protest in 1998
Peter Tatchell in a protest in 1998. Picture: Getty

“I did this protest to shine a light on Qatar’s human rights abuses against LGBT+ people, women, migrant workers and liberal Qataris. I am supporting their brave battle against tyranny.

Read more: Keir Starmer will refuse to go to the World Cup in Qatar because of human rights - even if England get to the final

“LGBT+ Qataris face police harassment, online entrapment, ‘honour’ killing, arrest, three years jail and potentially the death penalty. Qatar has secret gay conversion centres where LGBT+ people can be detained and subjected to abusive attempts to turn them straight.

Keir Starmer and his party wouldn't go to Qatar because of its 'human rights record'

“Women must get permission from a male guardian to marry, work in many government jobs and to study and travel abroad.

“Over 6,500 migrant workers have died since Qatar was given the right to host the World Cup. Many families are still waiting for compensation. Migrant workers complain of unpaid wages, overcrowded slum hostels and being refused permission to change jobs.”

Arab men sit at a shoemaker's stall with a replica of the World Cup trophy
Arab men sit at a shoemaker's stall with a replica of the World Cup trophy. Picture: Getty

A spokesperson for Mr Tatchell said this was the first ever LGBT demonstration in Qatar or any Gulf state.

Qatar is hosting the World Cup in late November and early December despite facing criticism for its anti-LGBT stance.

The FA has said that it has had assurances that LGBT fans will not face persecution in the country for the duration of the tournament if they commit "minor offences" against homophobic laws, so long as they respect local customs.

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FA chief executive Mark Bullingham told the Guardian: "They’ve absolutely told us all the right answers for anything we’ve talked about, even down to ‘are our rainbow flags allowed’?

Mark Bullingham has said LGBT fans should not be persecuted in Qatar
Mark Bullingham has said LGBT fans should not be persecuted in Qatar. Picture: Getty

“Yes, absolutely, as long as someone doesn’t go and drape them on the outside of a mosque – that was one example we were given – and were disrespectful in that way. They have absolutely been briefed to be very tolerant and act in the right way.”

It is unclear where the level for "minor offences" has been set - for example if gay couples kissing or holding hands will be tolerated.

Read more: Peter Tatchell: Time To Lower Age Of Consent

Australian-born, UK-based Mr Tatchell has campaigned for LGBT rights and other social justice issues for more than 50 years.

He has courted controversy in the past by criticising some Muslim organisations for being homophobic, although he has denied accusations of Islamophobia.

A spokesperson for the Qatar government said: "Rumours on social media that a representative from the Peter Tatchell Foundation has been arrested in Qatar are completely false and without merit.

"An individual standing in a traffic roundabout was cordially and professionally asked to move to the sidewalk, no arrests were made."

The spokesperson added that they were "disappointed" to see media reports on the subject.

They said: "We are always open to dialogue with entities that wish to discuss important topics, but spreading false information with the deliberate intention of provoking negative responses is irresponsible and unacceptable."

Mr Tatchell told LBC in response: "I was held on the kerbside against my will, I was not allowed to leave.

"I couldn't leave, I couldn't move, I had to stay there.

"They were polite, they didn’t threaten me.

"It wasn’t a harsh interrogation under heavy lights or anything."

LBC has contacted FIFA for comment on Mr Tatchell's comments.