Gay, women and LGBTQ fans from Wales traveling to Qatar for FIFA World Cup 2022 will be offered 'safe houses' after a World Cup ambassador described homosexuality as "damage in the mind". The Football Association of Wales issued a warning that it "can't guarantee" the safety of female and LGBTQ+ fans visiting the extremist Gulf state.
This comes amid growing concerns over the Islamic country's human rights record. Footballers from the Wales team will be wearing OneLove campaign armbands during the World Cup in Qatar. Homosexuality is a criminal offense in Qatar and is punishable by up to seven years in jail.
Concerned About the Fans
Officials from the Football Association of Wales are considering setting up a 'safe house' zone where fans can be themselves without fear of arrest in a country where homosexuality is punishable by up to seven years in jail and women's rights are restricted.
In an interview with Welsh TV channel S4C, Jason Webber from FAW said: "We've put many questions to the Supreme Committee and the Qatari Government.
"They are very firm on this stance that everyone is welcome and safe, however we can't guarantee that as a national association. There are discussions ongoing for having almost a safe house area for women or those in the LGBTQ+ community, but it's just providing as much information for those fans who are traveling."
It comes after Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford announced he would go to the World Cup to "shed a light" on Qatar's record of respecting human rights.
The decision to provide safe houses to women and LGBTQ fans comes in response to former Qatari player and tournament ambassador Khalid Salman's comments to German public television ZDF wherein he said that he had a problem with children seeing gay people.
Salman claimed that homosexuality is a spiritual "harm" and that being gay is "haram," which means "forbidden" in Arabic.
"During the World Cup many things will come here to the country,'' he said. "Let's talk about gays. The most important thing is everybody will accept that they come here. But they will have to accept our rules.''
The interview was cut short by a World Cup organizing committee press officer.
Since being selected as the tournament's host in 2010, Qatar has faced repeated criticism for its human rights violations. The traditional Muslim society of the Middle Eastern nation forbids homosexuality.
More than 1 million people are expected to travel to the tiny Gulf state for the FIFA World Cup 2022, which takes place from November 20 to December 18. The organizers have often emphasized that all fans are welcome and would be treated with respect and safety.
However, given that homosexuality is forbidden in Qatar, LGBTQ fans traveling to that country remain at risk. Senior Equalities Manager for the Welsh FA Jason Webber said they had asked event organizers for safety guarantees but still felt the need to try to protect spectators.
Wales is playing in its first World Cup final in 64 years, and 3,000 fans are scheduled to fly out to cheer them.
Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, 86, said picking Qatar to host the tournament had been a mistake. "It's a country that's too small,'' he said. "Football and the World Cup are too big for that. It was a bad choice. And I was responsible for that as president at the time."
He claimed that while he had cast his vote for the US to serve as host, the Gulf state had received the support of the European soccer authority UEFA, which was then headed by Michel Platini.
Mark Bullingham, the chief executive of the England FA, claimed he had received guarantees that LGBT+ supporters would not be detained for holding hands or kissing in public.
A spokesman for the Supreme Committee has said: "We have always said that this is a World Cup for all. Everyone is welcome â regardless of race, religion, gender or sexuality â and we're excited to introduce the world to Qatar's rich Arab culture and traditions."
A gay man who had earlier been living in Qatar reportedly alleged that the police there had "hunted" him before gang-raping him in a hotel room. Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA, has written to all 32 participating countries, requesting that they focus solely on the game of football.