The UK foreign secretary, James Cleverly, has been criticised for telling gay football fans they should show respect to Qatar, which criminalises their sexuality, when attending the World Cup in the emirate.
Cleverly said Qatar was willing to make compromises to allow people it would normally persecute to attend the tournament, which kicks off on 20 November. On Tuesday the prominent British LGBTQ campaigner Peter Tatchell claimed he had been arrested in Qatar for highlighting the country’s stance.
Cleverly said: “I have spoken to the Qatari authorities in the past about gay football fans going to watch the World Cup and how they will treat our fans and international fans. They want to make sure that football fans are safe, secure and enjoy themselves. And they know that that means they are going to have to make some compromises in terms of what is an Islamic country with a very different set of cultural norms to our own.
“One of the things I would say for football fans is, you know, please do be respectful of the host nation. They are trying to ensure that people can be themselves and enjoy the football, and I think with a little bit of flex and compromise at both ends, it can be a safe, secure and exciting World Cup.”
The shadow digital, culture, media and sport secretary, Lucy Powell, called Cleverly’s comments “shockingly tone-deaf”.
She said: “Sport should be open to all. Many fans will feel they can’t attend this tournament to cheer on their team because of Qatar’s record on human rights, workers and LGBT+ rights. The government should be challenging Fifa on how they’ve put fans in this position, and ensuring the full safety of all fans attending, not defending discriminatory values.”
Cleverly said he had not spoken with the Qatari government about the case of Tatchell, who was stopped in the Qatari capital, Doha, on Tuesday while staging a protest over LGBTQ rights. Cleverly told LBC radio he understood that the campaigner had been questioned and was being supported by the Foreign Office’s consular team.
He said he would attend the World Cup if his diary allowed, and he criticised the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, for saying he would refuse to do so because of Qatar’s record on homosexuality and other human rights issues. The Labour Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, reportedly does plan to attend the tournament.
Tatchell hit back at Cleverly, claiming that attending the tournament would amount to “colluding with a homophobic, sexist and racist regime”. He said: “The UK government must use its public voice to condemn the appalling human rights abuses carried out daily by the Qatari regime.
“Unless we all speak out, Qatar will have achieved its goal of sportswashing its appalling reputation during the World Cup. Cleverly has an opportunity to highlight the abuses being carried out by the regime. All fans, not just LGBTs, should boycott the World Cup and use their social media to amplify the shocking human rights abuses by the Qatari state.”
The Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said: “The World Cup should be a celebration of the beautiful game; instead it’s being used by countries like Qatar to sportwash their atrocious human rights records. Any UK officials who attend should be using their position to highlight human rights abuses, not endorsing the regime.”