LONDON (AP) — British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly faced criticism Wednesday after he told gay soccer fans heading to the World Cup in Qatar that they should show some “compromise” and be “respectful of the host nation.”
The comments were quickly dismissed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office, while a senior figure in the opposition Labor party called them “shockingly tone deaf.”
Homosexual activity is criminalized in Qatar and Cleverly was asked about the issue after British activist Peter Tatchell was questioned by police after staging a one-man protest in front of the Qatar National Museum, holding up a sign accusing the country of killing members of the LGBTQ community.
“In the past I have spoken to the Qatari authorities about gay football fans going to watch the World Cup and how they will treat our fans and international fans,” Cleverly told LBC Radio. “They want to make sure football fans are safe, secure and have fun, and they know that means they’re going to have to make some compromises in terms of what is an Islamic country with a very different set of cultural norms from that our own
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“One of the things I say to football fans is, you know, please be respectful to the host nation. They are trying to make sure that people can be themselves and enjoy football, and I think that with a little flex and compromise on both ends, it can be a safe, secure and exciting World Cup.”
Qatar said everyone is welcome at the World Cup, including LGBTQ fans, but that visitors should respect the country’s conservative culture, in which public displays of affection – even among heterosexuals – is taboo .
Qatari law calls for a prison sentence of one to three years for adults convicted of consensual homosexual or lesbian sex. European football federations last month announced their intention to have captains wear a rainbow heart armband as part of an anti-discrimination campaign during international matches.
Downing Street quickly rejected Cleverly’s language, saying people should not “compromise who they are.”
Opposition parties also criticized Cleverly’s comments, with SNP Westminster deputy leader Kirsten Oswald tweeting: “The Foreign Secretary appears to be essentially giving advice to people traveling to the Cup -World in Qatar to show some respect and not be gay. This is disgusting.”
Labour’s shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said: “This is shockingly tone deaf from James Cleverly. Sport should be open to everyone. Many fans will feel unable to attend this tournament to cheer on their team due to Qatar’s record on human, labor, and LGBT+ rights.”