An England LGBTQ+ fans’ representative has expressed disappointment that David Beckham is a paid ambassador for Qatar ahead of the World Cup, having considered him to be a “great ally” of the community.
Three Lions Pride group members have decided not to travel to the finals which start later this month, amid fears their presence could make the local LGBTQ+ community more vulnerable in a country where same-sex relationships are criminalised.
The group’s co-founder Di Cunningham believes players speaking out on LGBTQ+ rights have “shown up” tournament organisers FIFA, but reserved particular criticism for those, like former England captain Beckham, who have been paid to endorse Qatar.
“One of the difficulties we’re having is people taking the money in order to promote Qatar, to promote the World Cup,” Cunningham said on a webinar hosted by the Sports and Rights Alliance on Wednesday.
“We’re just so disappointed because the LGBTQ+ community has had David Beckham on a pedestal as a great ally, and then it turns out he’s an ambassador for this World Cup and that’s incredibly disappointing.
David Beckham has faced criticism over his Qatar World Cup ambassadorial role. Yui Mok
“So I hope the message has got through that people will be criticised for that.”
Beckham’s representatives have been contacted for comment.
Cunningham said she would watch matches on the TV from the UK rather than boycott the event completely, but said assurances from FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Qatar’s Supreme Committee that everyone was welcome in the Middle Eastern country were “not enough”.
“Three Lions Pride will not be travelling to this World Cup, mainly because we understand from our counterparts in Qatar that our presence would render them vulnerable to systematic, institutional and potentially vigilante abuse,” she said.
“We’re hearing what seems to be a kind of robotic insistence that all will be well, that we’ll be safe, that we will be welcomed, but it’s not backed by evidence or documented plans.
“There’s no sign, as there was in Russia (at the 2018 World Cup), of any kind of appetite to relax or review the toxic environment there is for LGBTQ+ and other minority groups.
“It’s wrong on so many levels. It was wrong when the decision was made, and it’s still very, very wrong. There’s not been any progress and just vocal reassurance from FIFA and from the Supreme Committee… it’s just not enough.”
Qatar has faced criticism over its human rights record and stance on LGBTQ+ rights. Nick Potts
Minky Worden, the director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, described the players competing in this World Cup as “hostages lashed to the ship of FIFA”.
“You’re stuck going to wherever FIFA has gone,” she added.
“I think for many fans, athletes and others, the last decade has been a very bitter lesson. And the highest bidder gets to host the World Cup without a human rights framework in place.”
Worden said HRW and other organisations had worked hard with FIFA on putting in place a human rights framework.
She was asked about the prospect of Saudi Arabia, a country with an appalling human rights record, being involved in a bid for the 2030 World Cup.
“There can never again be a World Cup that does not uphold basic human rights, which puts athletes, for whom the World Cup is their place of work, in the invidious position of having to fear for their identity,” Worden added.
“We can never again have a World Cup that fails to respect basic human rights and that days before (it starts) simply has none of the expected assurances and protections.”
HRW published a report last month based on testimony from members of Qatar’s LGBTQ+ community, where witnesses stated they were detained and abused by security forces.
The Qatari government rejected the contents of the report, stating the allegations within it were “categorically and unequivocally false”.
The Sports and Rights Alliance also heard from speakers on the rights of women and domestic workers in Qatar, and on the restrictions facing journalists.