There is great excitement in the lead up to the World Cup in Qatar. Equally however, there is concern that a tournament in which the world is expected to take part is taking place in a country where not all human rights, not of all fans, are respected.
While in countries like the UK, human beings have the right to choose who they love, in Qatar the country has already issued warnings that fans should avoid waving rainbow flags or demonstrating for the rights of gays and homosexuals during the tournament.
The Guardian newspaper directly asked the Supreme Committee (in charge of the tournament) if all fans would be safe and got a generic answer. It said, “Everyone will be welcome to Qatar in 2022, regardless of their race, background, religion, gender, sexual orientation or nationality. We are a relatively conservative society – for example, public displays of affection are not a part of our culture. “
The statement went on: “We believe in mutual respect and so whilst everyone is welcome, what we expect in return is for everyone to respect our culture and traditions.” Given that those cultural traditions include the fact that alcohol, pork products, adultery and, yes, homosexuality are illegal is cause for concern.
What ARE we willing to tolerate so that thousands of fans can enjoy this global celebration of the Beautiful Game? The Qatari response implies they will be tolerant so long as there is no public flouting of local and religious norms. Is this enough of a compromise? Should liberal democratic citizens be expected to curb their behaviour and hide their identities, not to mention turn a blind eye to a litany of alleged human rights abuses surrounding the death of migrant workers since Qatar began preparing for the tournament itself?
This brings us to one of the most tricky aspects of the concept of tolerance – the idea that we have to tolerate ideas and ideals that we dislike, that every truth is relative and that cultural tradition trumps everything else. What tolerance boils down to is not what one person believes or not but rather that no matter one’s beliefs – everyone should be awarded the same rights in their lives as everyone else.
That means freedom to believe whatever you want, but your right to impose those ideas and ideals on others stops when that freedom infringes on the rights of others. While football itself has been the home of racism and violence for decades, there is an enormous amount of work being done on bringing people together through the love of the game.
If two people love the game that much, no matter how different they (or their beliefs) are it’s proof that they have something in common. Finding common ground, mutual respect for difference and a means of communication are the basic steps towards resolving tension and conflict.
Football v Homophobia was set up to challenge discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression at all levels in football. One of its members, Lou Englefield, was reported as saying that he knew of no European LGBTIQ supporters’ group, or individual supporters, who are currently planning to attend this World Cup.
It’s not just a question of whether or not individual fans will be safe, but whether the message that the World Cup committee, funders, advertisers, sponsors and even players are sending is one that is good for people, fans or even football itself.