The 2022 World Cup produced cherished memories on the pitch, culminating in arguably the greatest final the sport of football has seen. Yet away from the field, battle lines were increasingly drawn over the treatment of the LGBTQ community in Qatar, the tournament’s host nation, and world football governing body FIFA’s approach to creating a welcoming, safe and inclusive environment for LGBTQ players, staff and supporters. Throughout this month, much has been said in Qatar (very little of it by members of the LGBTQ community).
Earlier this week, I invited LGBTQ football supporters on Twitter to tell me how the World Cup in Qatar had made them feel.
Here, we publish a sample of the dozens of responses, ranging from people born in the region, to others in Pakistan, South Africa, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States.
PS: Some contributors asked to have only their first names published, or to speak anonymously, for differing reasons; some due to living in countries that criminalise same-sex relations, some due to family members or friends not being aware of their sexuality and some to avoid any repercussions in their workplace.
I am an Arab and from the Gulf.
I’m bi — closeted, of course. I never even realised it growing up because of how society is set up here. Having lived in Europe from age 18-26 and made some good friends, I came to terms with my truth.
It’s been hard to boycott this World Cup from a football fanatic’s point of view. It was doubly so given how close geographically to my country it was. A lot of my friends went to Qatar and considered my refusal to go a joke at first and ludicrous when they realised I was serious. A gay friend — who had no interest in football whatsoever before this tournament — even went!
Since then, I have had to smile and nod in false agreement whenever colleagues at work or family members bragged about how “We’ve riled the West up” and how “France (!!), Germany and England lost because of their support of LGBT rights”. The latest line being, “We’ve put the bisht on Lionel Messi because (French captain) Hugo Lloris threatened to wear the rainbow flag as a cape during the trophy presentation had France won” (Lloris had never threatened this).
The biggest blow was a public advertising campaign, orchestrated and paid for by over 20 supposed charities and human rights organisations in Kuwait. People had to see this every time they drove to work or to meet friends. It’s still up but they changed the rainbow colour of the wording to red after some backlash that it was still “too gay”. It felt like a reaction to people like Grant Wahl, may his soul rest in power, and other reporters who chose to shine some light on the LGBT situation over here.
The premise of the campaign is a play on words, as the Arabic word for gay is “Mithly” which also means “like me”. It says “He’s not mithly, I’m a man and he’s an anomaly”. Anomaly is one of the many derogatory words for gay in Arabic. And they have another version for women going along the same lines. It makes no sense because it loses the play on words but you can’t expect much from such an eclectic group of dimwits, I guess.
Even still, I like football because it’s such a big part of my life but any delusion that it can ever be used as a tool for anything good did evaporate.
I live in San Francisco (in the US for 14 years) but I was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan. I am a Chelsea fan and openly gay.
I felt conflicted at my friends’ reactions and them saying, “This is the best World Cup ever”. They would say that because of the high number of upsets, close games, lots of goals, et cetera. I agreed that it was a fun World Cup to watch based on those metrics but I had a tough time reconciling saying “best/good/fun” World Cup given Qatar’s/FIFA’s treatment of our LGBTQ community.
Another example of tension was when friends in WhatsApp groups would post about the Morocco team waving the Palestinian flag during/after their games.
I support the Palestinians too and love that representation. But I also saw it as a contradiction if such a political statement was made but LGBTQ flags/armbands were not allowed. And my friends would not speak up on such causes being hushed, which made me feel anxiety and stress.
I am just exhausted and frustrated by the whole thing. The simple fact of a tiny, authoritarian, theocratic, absolute monarchy hosting a World Cup is, on the face of it, entirely ridiculous. The rolling shitshow about the pride-but-not-actually-pride armbands seriously made me question the competency of basically all administrators within the sport.
I feel conflicted about the level of attention the LGBTQ issue received vs other issues — the labour and migrant rights issues most noticeably — and also on the location of the focus. So much of the attention was on possible safety issues from Qatari officials with regards to foreign (Global North) fans. (I found the possibility of Qatari officials arresting or abusing a Global North fan for being LGBTQ so unlikely from a pure public relations perspective.)
It is obviously terrible and humiliating, as an LGBTQ person, to be effectively barred from travelling to a World Cup but most of the world (especially people from the Global South) are barred from travelling to most World Cups (for economic and legal and visa reasons), so it feels wrong for that to be the centre of the conversation. So little attention was paid to what life is like for LGBTQ Qataris and especially LGBTQ migrant workers who are forced every day and every moment to choose between being their authentic selves and their literal lives and livelihoods. I do wonder if the existence of the controversy and the fact that some teams (Germany, most noticeably) and some people were publicly supportive of LGBTQ people in Qatar did provide some level of hope to LGBTQ people in Qatar and other places around the world where our existence is illegal — even in spite of the fact that the pro-LGBTQ effort was chaotic, muted and easily cowed by FIFA.
Finally, from a personal point of view, this whole thing triggered an absolute obsession in reading endless tweets from people arguing about this issue, with many actively arguing for people like me to be eliminated. I do not understand why I do this and it is not good psychologically or beneficial in trying to navigate the world as an out queer person.
I am a lesbian woman and have loved football all of my life. What this World Cup has shown me is essentially what I already knew — that players, clubs, coaches and FIFA execs talk a big game about inclusion and fighting hatred but when faced with even the smallest punishment (a yellow card) they couldn’t see it through.
Homophobia is a huge issue in football, just look at how Iker Casillas (a World Cup winner!) pretended to come out as a joke.
This World Cup just put a bigger spotlight on it.
Mostly just annoyed and angry. I’m a fan of women’s football mostly, and LGBTQ players are super-common in women’s teams, so it’s not really an issue there. Watching this World Cup and the discourse around it just made me roll my eyes at the fact that men’s football is still so fucking toxic. I watched a few games, but I was not invested at all.
I’m based in the Netherlands and I was disappointed that the Dutch squad (as well as some others) didn’t wear the OneLove armband during the matches because of the potential yellow-card penalty. And I’m doubly annoyed because we are supposedly sooooo progressive and LGBTQ-friendly but this just shows once again that it’s just tolerance and not acceptance.
We only matter when we can be used as a weapon against Muslim immigrants here, but meanwhile we’re ass-kissing anyone with power in Qatar.
The World Cup made me feel… empty.
And whenever I caught myself enjoying a match towards the end of the tournament, I felt guilty because after boycotting the group stage, it felt like I was giving in and letting Qatar win.
The internal conflict it caused is best summed up by the England-France game: I spent much of the match not knowing who to pull for but when Harry Kane missed his penalty and when the full-time whistle went, my first emotion was relief, because deep down I did not want England to win this World Cup.
I did not want to spend the rest of my life seeing pictures, reading interviews, watching BBC montages, overhearing pub conversations about this tournament. We’d never have been free of the World Cup that took place in a proudly homophobic country and, worse, that World Cup would have been glorified for eternity. Anyone trying to highlight the issues surrounding the tournament would probably have been dismissed as an unpatriotic killjoy.
That is not something a football fan should have to be wrestling with as a tournament is progressing and it would be nice if FIFA cared about the fact they were putting people in that kind of position. But they don’t.
As a gay football fan, I struggled in the build-up, and with whether I would even watch it. Especially after the backtracking with the OneLove armbands and also rainbows in the stands being barred. It’s incredibly difficult to stay away from a sport that I love and that brings me so much enjoyment.
I ended up watching it.
As a US resident, it was extremely disheartening and difficult listening to the Fox broadcasts (in the United States). It felt more akin to watching a travel guide for Qatar than a sporting event. In the end, I watched the whole tournament but never stopped voicing or amplifying those with their stories to shed light on the atrocities that our community face in both Qatar and the broader world.
Just because I am gay does not make me lesser. It does not mean I do not deserve to enjoy the beautiful game — no matter how hard they try to keep us from it.
I enjoyed the football in this World Cup but that moment when it was announced that Harry Kane wasn’t going to wear the armband I felt so angry. I was angry with him, with England, with Southgate and the FA. I felt so let down by all their talk and then when it came to actually making a stand to show people like me that they care and that we’re included — it became so hollow.
That feeling drifted away a little, but that day is still raw. They didn’t let me down on the pitch but it’s chipped away at my fandom a little.
I was lucky enough to be at Wembley when the England women won the Euros and I can’t help but think that they wouldn’t have backed down so easily. I know the real issue is with FIFA but in the end and even after such an amazing final, we can all see how morally corrupt that organisation is.
I am Danish and married to another woman, and I am a huge football fan. I watch an immense amount of men’s and women’s football every week on the telly and in the stands and have been doing so for years, while I also work with football professionally as a radio and podcast host.
Normally, the World Cup is a total highlight for me, but I haven’t watched a single minute from Qatar. Not as some kind of political statement or because I think my personal choice makes a difference, but just because I didn’t feel like it. The Qatar World Cup symbolises everything that is wrong with modern football for me — that football is closing in on itself, being a sport for the wealthy few instead of something that unites us no matter our sexuality, race, class, gender and so on.
The Danish FA ditching the OneLove armband (which doesn’t even have the real rainbow colours on it) made me borderline depressed. I have always known that LGBTQ people have none-to-very-limited space in men’s football, but this was just such an obvious statement that no one of importance really cares about the progress on this matter.
All in all, the last couple of years I have been going from watching 80 per cent men’s and 20 per cent women’s football to now shifting more towards the women’s game, as I just feel it is a more comfortable place to be as a fan and most certainly as an LGBTQ football fan.
As a parent of a 15-year-old girl who is gay, it was difficult to support the World Cup knowing that my daughter would not be welcome to attend. The World Cup should be about inclusion and welcoming everybody regardless of race, religion or sexual preferences.
My daughter is football mad and loves playing and watching football. She didn’t watch one minute of this World Cup so missed out on possibly one of the best finals ever.
I’m a gay man and I work as a sports TV producer. I was involved in some early development for some of the TV output but felt more and more uncomfortable as the event got nearer, so I declined the offer to work on the event in any capacity and asked not to be involved in any further development.
So really, now that it’s all over, I feel relief because I think I made the right decision.
Nothing that happened during the tournament changed my mind about the hypocrisy, corruption and contradiction involved at every step of the event. The sport might have been engaging, but there was no ignoring all the other issues which were raised from the outset.
For all the talk of stimulating debate around uncomfortable subjects, I’m yet to see any actual tangible, long-lasting effect the tournament may have had on attitudes in the Middle East or in the footballing community as a whole.
Joe Lycett’s David Beckham stunt and a brave Alex Scott wearing the OneLove armband on the BBC coverage while all the teams backed out in fear of yellow cards are the closest we got to anyone actually taking the opportunity to make a difference. Otherwise, it all rather felt like a mirror to Matt Hancock’s claim he was going into the I’m a Celebrity jungle to raise awareness for dyslexia — all talk, no real intent or action, and no follow-through once it’s over.
I’d like to thank the Got Your Back team and the team at Channel 4 for their extraordinary hard work on this project. Here’s a trailer. (4/4) pic.twitter.com/NDd27wQCst
— Joe Lycett (@joelycett) December 15, 2022
As a proud Welshman, I’m saddened that I couldn’t really get behind my home side in their first campaign for 64 years as much as I usually would due to the discomfort I felt surrounding the event; but there will be other opportunities and I hope we qualify in 2026 so I can sing Yma o Hyd again proudly without a niggling pang of guilt about what I was ignoring when I did.
The main thing I felt was guilt. I used to be chair of an LGBT soccer team and, before the World Cup started, I did my best to get our message out about it. I even did some local radio interviews. And then when it started, I got sucked into it.
I felt I couldn’t talk about it in work or engage with it at the start, then I tried to start engaging in a way to highlight the issues in need of highlighting, but I found that I was just robbed of the chance to enjoy the good football on show. I felt guilty about watching it and angry about how the World Cup was shut down for people like me to fully enjoy.
They’re only here every four years, and yet between Russia and Qatar, we’ve been shut out twice.
As a bisexual man, the homophobia was pervasive throughout the tournament and in online discourse. I found it really disgusting and frustrating to read and witness.
All the virtue-signalling from national teams and players about how “important” the issue was felt like BS considering the lack of genuine support or care from any of them, even down to the frankly insufficient OneLove armband. I hated the response that this overt homophobia was just ‘their culture’, as that cannot be an excuse if you are hosting a worldwide event.
In general, it made me even more angry regarding the lack of support for LGBT people in modern football and really highlighted just how homophobic nations like the UK really can be, with seemingly countless British fans essentially telling us to “get over it and enjoy the football”.
I feel conflicted, of course upset, but knowing this is one of the first times a country in that region has hosted the World Cup and what that means for LGBTQ+ people of colour, it also makes me wonder how much of the coverage is linked to media racism.
The same scrutiny didn’t apply to more western countries who hosted global sporting events with similar track records on human rights, so it feels a bit frustrating that our identity is being used as a political/identity politics pawn.
However, knowing the governing body favoured money over the safety of queer people sends a terrible message to LGBTQ+ people and certainly put me off engaging with the World Cup.
I was going to tweet, but then scanned the comments and thought, ‘No’. I wasn’t expecting anyone in authority, the FA or players, to do anything. That was disappointing but entirely predictable. My huge problem came from alleged friends, people I’ve gone to games with, played pool with after matches, spent time in the pub with discussing the failings of another centre half. People who’ve claimed to be allies.
They suddenly lost that allyship when I was discussing it, saying things like “just get back to the football” and “drop the politics, mate”. That they placed football above who I am, above human rights, at the same time as being “sad” that I’d experienced abuse at the ground, appalled me, and it hurt. I no longer consider them friends, and I’ve talked to other queer people who’ve experienced the same.
It’s made me question why I go, whether football is actually for me. I may, after 25 years, not get a season ticket next year.
I had a deep think about allyship and what it actually means for sports clubs and primarily straight players trying to support the LGBTQ cause.
Primarily, my anger is directed at FIFA for their position and how teams had to respond to armbands and ‘political statements’ et cetera. I am equally annoyed at the FA, who I thought bottled it at the 11th hour. The symbolic impact of wearing the armband, taking a yellow card and a fine (which the FA would have paid) would have made me follow that team to the end of the Earth in terms of support and admiration that they took a risk on behalf of LGBTQ rights.
And I’m left with a feeling that, really, they only care when it’s convenient for them.
I’m now left thinking, actually, do I want big stars, football teams or clubs to have Pride or LGBTQ campaigns at all? Because the moment anything gets difficult, they will just drop it and move on. I’d rather them just shut up and let actual LGBTQ people take their own liberation journey without their help.
Sadly, my conclusion to this whole shambles is that I wished the FA and the players just went to the tournament, didn’t say a word and left. It’s better than pretending to care, and then doing nothing when the circumstances around it got complicated.
I guess, in summary, it showed everyone’s true intentions: care just about enough to show face. Which is really fucking depressing.
OneLove armband u-turn is a reminder that men’s football will not stand up for LGBT people
I felt the so-called support by players and governing bodies was laughable and that I was complicit by watching, especially as I was a neutral throughout. But I suppose there is a reason there are no out top-flight players, so maybe I was naive to believe otherwise.
But I also found that some of the media coverage about LGBT rights, especially in the UK, was from a very Western gaze and more input from LGBT Arabs should have been sought.
Depressed. Conflicted. Ignored. Outrage at Qatar died down after the first few days.
England’s reluctance to take a yellow for the OneLove armband meant I didn’t watch them for the majority of the tournament. I wanted them to do well, but couldn’t throw myself into it.
It was impossible to separate the host from the competition. Indeed, watching Germany go out, which I would usually enjoy, was painful because of the glee that triggered among homophobes. The only thing that could have saved it for me would have been if whoever won it had made some kind of pro-LGBT protest when they picked up the trophy. Instead, Qatar claimed Messi as their own.
The whole thing just showed how wafer-thin allyship can be. After all the noise, the first good match was enough for folk to turn a blind eye.
I think this World Cup was proof that FIFA, football associations, and footballers themselves really only pay lip-service to campaigns for inclusion. As soon as there was any cost to them, they were happy to jettison any commitment to gay supporters, or even possibly team-mates. Only Germany made the slightest gesture.
I remember feeling so disenfranchised by the English team when OneLove collapsed. Didn’t celebrate anything to do with the Iran game and quite frankly just didn’t want to watch it. Slowly got into it as football is something that has always got me through tough times after chatting with my dad about it, but yeah, wasn’t fun.
Seeing the English team still take the knee but not protest against the other issues was tough. Casillas presenting the trophy being the cherry on top…
I just felt tired. At this point, if a symbol that was already so minimal and shit can’t be done, what hope do we have for genuine substantial systemic change to allow LGBT+ people to feel comfort and like we belong in the sport?
I was really disappointed in Harry Kane and Jordan Henderson — so outspoken in the past on these issues until it became even marginally inconvenient.
In a street in Doha. Now there are actual signs up saying “Not Allowed in Qatar” below a rainbow. pic.twitter.com/DcHiVVq64B
— Adam Crafton (@AdamCrafton_) December 2, 2022
I feel it further demonstrated FIFA’s corruption and how they are willing to discard their “values” for money.
I also think there were positives, I had been impressed with the response from the players, coaches and national football associations that tried to take a stand before being stamped out by sanctions. I can’t imagine the threats were light, given that every nation ditched their attempts to defy almost immediately.
Players have been measured in their praise of the hosts. I haven’t seen many players or coaches speak highly of Qatar in the way we had with the likes of South Africa.
Broadcasters could have done better but the initial statements were there and while they are there to inform they are also there to entertain. They have been clear that their praise of the event refers to the quality of the matches and the moments within them, rather than the spectacle put on by the hosts.
I got the impression that nearly all involved were having to tread water and most were desperate to say more but the repercussions hanging over them were too much.
Regardless, I feel FIFA will continue to jeopardise the inclusiveness of the sport for the foreseeable future and it is incredibly disappointing.
For me, the most telling moment of how the World Cup went was the Germany game against Japan and the glee from pundits, officials, other professionals and fans to see Germany lose that game and lecture us about how it was all a product of them protesting the right to stand up for LGBTQ+ people and if they hadn’t done that 20 seconds of protest before the game they would have won (which also is very disrespectful to Japan).
It was as if the entire football community said “Stand up for LGBTQ+ people? You deserve punishment.”
This is how Qatari TV reacted to Germany’s World Cup exit…
— george (@StokeyyG2) December 2, 2022
Gareth Southgate specifically said ahead of it that the England team would not shy away from bringing attention to the human rights issues. There are players that I believed would have the courage to do so. As it stands, a yellow card was enough to silence everyone. The LGBTQ+ community mean less to these players and associations than the ability to go in for a tackle late. I don’t feel welcome at games and I specifically think less of players who, on the 19th of November (the day before the tournament began), I loved and worshipped the ground they stood on. I’ve honestly fallen out of love with the game over it.
On the plus-side though, I have a LOT more time and respect and adoration for Joe Lycett, who was one of the few people to actually speak out for us.
Probably similar to a lot of gay fans, it’s always been love/hate with football including trying really hard not to like it for years when I was younger because I didn’t think it was for people like me given the lack of (visible) LGBT people in football.
It genuinely felt like we’d made progress on this in recent years — far more than I hoped for, including not only players like Jake Daniels and Josh Cavallo but also quite a few clubs actively engaging with things like rainbow laces.
I didn’t watch the World Cup because I personally couldn’t square it morally but due to who I follow on social media and friends, I’ve managed to not miss any of the depressing developments. It feels like FIFA have managed to go above and beyond to turn something I love into something I really struggle with understanding if it is a place for me.
The fact that FIFA, and also seemingly a disturbingly large number of fans, want us to “respect a different culture” that results in thousands of Qataris (who we can, to an extent, relate to) living their lives in fear and not being able to be who they are honestly made me feel kind of sick every time I saw it. And we were seemingly expected to suck it up? This combined with the gleeful mocking of the teams who were going to wear the OneLove armband as they got knocked out. The teams backing down on the armband, which itself wasn’t even a proper rainbow armband, at the slightest hint of potential repercussions, was beyond depressing. The most pathetic of gestures wasn’t worth doing apparently.
In the end, what people who have been talking about sportswashing said would happen is exactly what’s happened.
Everyone’s apparently forgotten the LGBT people in Qatar, the migrant workers — in spite of there being deaths during the tournament — the women, because the football was good.
Eoin Ó hArrachtáin
I’m a sportswriter with an Irish publication. I’m a bisexual football fanatic, and felt deeply conflicted during the tournament. On the one hand, the damage has already been done and it’s hard not to feel helpless when decisions like these are made. I think it was Barney Ronay in The Guardian whose headline on a story read, “Are we going to let FIFA get away with this?”. It summed things up nicely.
Yes, the World Cup came and went, and yes the fan reaction to the tournament being in Qatar was overwhelmingly negative but, in the end, it went ahead and — footballing-wise — was a huge success. And that’s what will be remembered by casual fans, so the goal has been achieved.
I watched every game at the World Cup, as I always do, and loved doing so.
The World Cup is my favourite thing in sport, and it felt like FIFA would win in some way by robbing me and other LGBT fans of enjoying it by making these grubby decisions.
I chose to protest by trying to amplify the issues on the ground in our coverage of the World Cup, by sharing facts and stories on Twitter and social media, and by refusing to buy any FIFA-licenced merchandise or engage with their own social media output from the event. I also intend to donate to a charity supporting LGBT rights in an attempt to at least try to offset the World Cup damage.
It was a deeply conflicting World Cup, and I don’t question anyone who refused to watch it.
I decided to boycott the World Cup, mostly because of the lack of ability to protest and call out the gross crime against LGBTQ+ people and migrant workers. It seems like once the World Cup was underway, any opposition either disappeared or was kept quiet in order to present it as the “best World Cup ever”.
It makes any effort made by FIFA to open the sport up and get rid of the homophobic elements completely useless and reiterates that money is king and any campaign was merely superficial because they thought it would make them more money.
I don’t believe that you can only hold big sports competitions in friendly countries because at the end of the day it is a global sport and everyone should be welcome.
However, the lack of an ability to protest to protect our community, migrants and other minority groups is abhorrent. How can we make the world a better and safer place for all if you suppress all crimes? There are crimes that need justice. Sorry if that feels like waffle, but it’s a difficult one to explain.
I love football. It’s my life. I was torn about whether to watch this World Cup knowing how people like me are treated in Qatar, the final straw for me was when England chose not to perform even the weak protest they had planned.
If even my own country couldn’t stand up for the rights of people like me, I couldn’t bear to watch. I didn’t watch a single second and felt constantly sickened walking into the pub and it being on, Twitter being fuelled by even more hate than usual and this weird void in my life while everyone else continued to enjoy themselves.
On one hand, I won’t look at football the same; on the other, it’s made me think about how my own club and team engage with sponsors who do not represent me or its supposed values.
The World Cup generally made me feel quite sad about how far support goes. I think when push came to shove, lots of compromise and folding happened around LGBTQ issues.
It was easier for teams/individuals/organisations to go back to the mantra of focusing on the football, because it all got too difficult. Sadly this plays into a narrative about how far support goes when it appears to conflict with something apparently more important.
It seemed to confirm what a lot of people in my circle often think: that corporate entities couldn’t care less about LGBT+ rights, except when they stand to benefit.
I wasn’t ever bothered about the OneLove armband until it became this huge debate to the effect of being the most concrete symbol of gay rights, like it was sometimes presented, and then it just got draining seeing more and more pieces trying to put it down. It hurt.
The annoying thing is, I still couldn’t keep myself away from it.
I missed the first match and the odd one here or there but as queer as I might be, I’m still a football fan.
As a gay football fan, I decided before the tournament started that I wouldn’t let the lack of morality get in my way of enjoying the football, hence I began to watch the matches.
However as the tournament went on and I heard about fans being hounded for wearing items with pride colours, the debacle around the armband and broken promise after broken promise by FIFA, I grew fed up of the tournament.
After the group stage, I stopped watching and engaging in the tournament because of this and felt yet again like an outsider.
(Top photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)