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The ‘don’t be gay’ World Cup

World Cup 2022 is being held in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal and the host nation’s record on human rights is appalling.

Activists played football during a symbolic action by LGBT+ associations in front of the FIFA museum in Zurich on Nov. 8 to call FIFA to defend the rights of the LGBT+ community ahead of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup.FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

Are you ready for some football?

That’s what most of the world calls soccer, and the World Cup, which begins Sunday, is the world’s greatest spectacle of the world’s most popular sport.

But this edition of the men’s World Cup is unlike any other, because for the first time it’s being held in the Arab world, where the scorching climate in host nation Qatar has forced it from its usual summer time slot. Officials in the conservative Muslim country, meanwhile, are dramatically altering the World Cup’s inclusive, carnival-like atmosphere — and not for the better.

By agreeing to move the tournament to late fall, FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, rightly concluded that watching the sport’s greatest players collapse from heat stroke is hardly a way to showcase the Beautiful Game.


More controversial is FIFA awarding the tournament to Qatar in the first place.

The country has an appalling human rights record. Women have less rights than men. According to human rights organizations, migrant workers who built the stadiums needed for the event have died in shocking numbers while being paid off in the dark and forced to work 18-hour days.

Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and Human Rights Watch says gay people are arrested and abused by security forces, making a mockery of FIFA marketing the World Cup as an inclusive event.

In fairness, Qatar did make a concession on its tight control of alcohol sales, usually limited to secluded hotel bars frequented by foreigners. Budweiser, a World Cup sponsor, will be allowed to sell cups of beer in unobtrusive spots outside the stadiums. At 14 bucks a pop.

Gay people, meanwhile, face up to seven years in prison for being who they are.

If Florida is the “don’t say gay” state, Qatar is the “don’t be gay” country. Khalid Salman, a former Qatar player and World Cup ambassador, recently defended his country’s stance on homosexuality by claiming that being gay was evidence of “damage in the mind.”


According to World Cup organizers, ambassadors like Salman are expected to “harness the power of football to create positive social change in Qatar, across the region and around the globe.” Salman apparently didn’t get the memo.

So how did a repressive regime like Qatar get the World Cup?

Whenever it comes to FIFA, follow the money. Check out “FIFA Uncovered” on Netflix. Read the US Justice Department’s take on how the World Cup was awarded to Qatar for this year and Russia for 2018. Certain FIFA officials are open-minded on some things: They’ve never met a bribe they didn’t like.

England’s captain, Harry Kane, is one of a half-dozen national team leaders who have pledged to wear rainbow armbands to protest Qatar’s human rights record. The US team will wear a rainbow crest. Denmark players will don black jerseys to mourn migrant workers who died during construction.

Kevin Treanor thinks every player on each of the 32 teams should wear some symbolic display of protest.

Treanor runs the Phoenix Landing in Cambridge, a Central Square pub where soccer is revered and the clientele resembles the United Nations. His pub, like the Banshee in Dorchester, like the cafes that line Hanover Street in the North End, like places all over New England, will be teeming with fans from diverse backgrounds and all walks of life throughout the World Cup.


“Football brings different people together. It is the beautiful game,” Treanor said. “The World Cup should never have been given to Qatar.”

Treanor suggests the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, which the host nation won, was the best from a purely football perspective. But, from a human perspective, it was held while Argentina’s military dictatorship was disappearing and murdering dissidents.

That regime, hoping to whitewash its human rights abuses, instead watched worldwide attention focus not just on the games but on the mothers of the disappeared.

Treanor hopes Qatar 2022 will be like Argentina 1978, that the game will be beautiful while the ugliness of oppression will be called out. Let’s hope he’s right.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.