‘Nobody feels unsafe here’: gay footballer Josh Cavallo told he is welcome at Qatar World Cup

  • Australian said he would be ‘scared’ to play in Gulf state
  • Tournament organisers say Qatar is ‘like any other society’

Australian footballer Josh Cavallo would be welcome at next year’s World Cup, the chief executive of the tournament in Qatar has said, despite the country’s laws against homosexuality.

The Adelaide United player, who became the world’s only current openly gay top-flight professional footballer when he came out last month, told the Guardian at the time he would be “scared” to play in the Gulf state.

Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and punishable by a penalties ranging from flogging to imprisonment and execution, but tournament organiser Nasser Al Khater assured gay fans they could feel safe there, as long as they act conservatively.

“We welcome him [Cavallo] here in the state of Qatar, we welcome him to come and see, even prior to the World Cup,” Al Khater told CNN. “Nobody feels threatened here, nobody feels unsafe here.

“I think, unfortunately, maybe he’s getting this perception because of reading a lot of these accusations or reading a lot of these news stories that shine a negative light. Qatar is like any other society in this world. Everyone is welcome.

“Listen, public display of affection is frowned upon, and that goes across the board – across the board. Qatar is a modest country. That’s all that needs to be respected. Other than that, everyone is free to live their life.

“They [gay people] will be coming to Qatar as fans of a football tournament. They can do whatever any other human being would do. What I’m saying is Qatar, from a public-display-of-affection factor, is conservative.”

Homosexuality is potentially punishable by the death penalty for Muslims in the country under sharia law, although human rights reports have said there is no evidence any gay people have been executed for the offence.

Fifa 2022 Qatar World Cup chief executive Nasser Al Khater.
Fifa 2022 Qatar World Cup chief executive Nasser Al Khater. Photograph: Ibraheem Al Omari/Reuters

Same-sex marriages and civil partnerships are not recognised by the Qatari government and campaigning for LGBTQI+ rights in the country is outlawed. Al Khater accepted the World Cup could be used as a platform for protests to be made against Qatar but said that was not a concern for organisers.

“All scenarios are open and all scenarios are on the table,” he said. “Are we worried about it? No, I wouldn’t say we’re worried about it”.

A “danger index” compiled in 2019 to guide LGBT travellers rated Qatar as the second most dangerous place to travel for queer people, but Al Khater claimed the negative perception of Qatar from outside the country was unfair.

“Over the past few years, it’s probably gotten a little bit worse,” he said. “And no matter how much the state of Qatar puts forward, in terms of really accelerating progress, that’s never captured, and that’s never reflected and that’s not ever something that’s communicated.”

Qatar, which will host the global showpiece event starting in November next year, has been criticised for its human rights record in the buildup to the tournament, including its treatment of migrant workers.

Cavallo, 21, received a wave of support from football fans and current and former players last month after opening up about his sexuality in a video posted to his club Adelaide United’s social media feeds. He told the Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast that the announcement had followed six anguished years of trying to hide his sexual identity from everyone he knew.

“I read something along the lines of that [they] give the death penalty for gay people in Qatar, so it’s something I’m very scared [of] and wouldn’t really want to go to Qatar for that,” he said.

“And that saddens me. At the end of the day the World Cup is in Qatar and one of the greatest achievements as a professional footballer is to play for your country, and to know that this is in a country that doesn’t support gay people and puts us at risk of our own life, that does scare me and makes me re-evaluate – is my life more important than doing something really good in my career?”

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