By Leo Sands
World Cup organisers expect .2 million fans to descend on Qatar for the 2022 soccer tournament. This is the first time it has been hosted in a Middle East nation in the event's 92-year history.
Every one of those visitors, the Persian Gulf state's ruler insists, is welcome.
But for LGBTQ fans, that might not be immediately obvious. Same-sex sexual activities are punishable in Qatar, with a prison sentence and potentially – although it is never known to have been carried out – even capital punishment.
Our quick guide to what LGBTQ soccer fans visiting Qatar can expect:
What does the law in Qatar say about being LGBTQ?
Qatar has multiple laws in place that criminalise LGBTQ people, in particular gay men.
Sex between adult men is prohibited and punishable by up to seven years in prison, according to a recent US State Department report. The same does not explicitly apply to women.
The gulf state operates religious sharia courts, legally allowing for the possibility of married Muslim men to be executed if they are found to have engaged in adultery.
For this reason, the Human Dignity Trust, a London legal group that campaigns for LGBTQ rights worldwide, includes Qatar on its list of 11 countries across the world where the death penalty is a legal possibility for LGBTQ people, although it is not known to have been used specifically for this purpose in Qatar.
There are recent reports that LGBTQ people have been arrested and mistreated in the Persian Gulf state, including in the months before the World Cup, according to a recent analysis from New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Researchers from the organisation documented six cases of severe and repeated beatings and five cases of sexual harassment by officials between 2019 and 2022, against four transgender women, a bisexual woman and a gay man. The Washington Post could not independently verify the accounts from the report.
What are the rules for LGBTQ fans inside official Fifa tournament zones?
Fifa, the global soccer organisation that organises the World Cup, insists that LGBTQ fans will be welcome alongside all other visitors this year.
At the same time, it advises travellers to respect local culture and use common sense, but provides scant detail on what that entails.
Inside official tournament zones, Fifa says fans will be able to express their identity however they wish.
"There is no risk; they are welcome to express themselves; they are welcome to express their love for their partners," Gerdine Lindhout, Fifa's head of fan experience, told ITV News on Wednesday. "They won't get into trouble for public displays of affection."
But when asked about what guidance existed outside the official zones, including where fan accommodations are located, a spokesperson for the soccer association said that was the responsibility of the host nation, Qatar.
Is it safe for LGBTQ fans outside tournament zones in Qatar?
Qatar has repeatedly insisted that everyone is welcome at this year's World Cup and that LGBTQ people are no exception.
The country is opening its doors "without discrimination", ruling Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani told the UN General Assembly in September.
The organisers also publicly confirmed that there were no restrictions on who was able to share accommodations while visiting for the World Cup.
The event's Qatari organisers suggested that all foreign travellers consider limiting public expressions of physical intimacy, in line with local customs.
"Everyone is welcome in Qatar, but we are a conservative country and any public display of affection, regardless of orientation, is frowned upon," officials said. "We simply ask for people to respect our culture."
Despite vows that everyone would be welcomed, attitudes toward LGBTQ people can be conservative in the country.
Khalid Salman, a former Qatari soccer player and the ambassador for this year's tournament, told German television in an interview published this month that homosexuality was "damage in the mind".
Britain, meanwhile, has provided advice that has appeared contradictory. In a radio interview last month, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly urged LGBTQ travellers to show "a little bit of flex and compromise" when in Qatar, but the prime minister's office later rebuked this, saying that people should never have to "compromise who they are", according to the Associated Press.
The UK’s advice says, "Private life in Qatar is largely respected but any intimacy between persons in public can be considered offensive, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or intent."
Human rights groups and soccer fan clubs have criticised Fifa's decision to let Qatar host the event, and many LGBTQ fans are dissatisfied with how the association has handled their safety concerns.
"We have received nothing but vaguely worded statements of no real substance," three English groups representing LGBTQ fans said in a joint statement this month, accusing Fifa of breaching its own commitment to using soccer as a tool for promoting human rights.
What steps can LGBTQ fans take to stay safe?
Antonio Pablo Herrero, a travel consultant specialising in LGBTQ tourism, has blunt advice for LGBTQ fans: "If you want to be safe, don't go there.
However, for travellers who decide to visit Qatar, Herrero advises concealing any visible expressions of LGBTQ identity while in the country. This means considering the clothes you choose to wear, deleting LGBTQ-specific dating apps from your cellphone and if you travel with a partner, making an effort to hide your relationship in public.
How have soccer teams expressed their support for LGBTQ fans?
In solidarity, several top qualifying teams say they plan to feature rainbow flags in their travelling entourage and on their kits. The England squad flew to Doha on a Virgin Atlantic aircraft named "Rain Bow" and painted with the airline's LGBTQ mascot.
The captains of teams from several European nations, including Germany, say they will wear the rainbow symbol around their arms on the pitch – irrespective of whether it is permitted by Fifa.
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