Peter Tatchell has warned Qatar that the world’s eyes will be on the country during the World Cup, as protesters gathered outside its embassy in London to highlight the dangers faced by LGBTQ+ people, women and migrant workers.
Tatchell said it was “outrageous” that figures including David Beckham were promoting Qatar and the tournament, in effect asking fans to ignore human rights abuses and the country’s record on LGBTQ+ issues.
Tatchell, 70, who was arrested in Doha in October for staging a one-man protest outside the National Museum of Qatar, was speaking at the demonstration on Saturday, in an area of London peppered with embassies and high commissions, a stone’s throw from Hyde Park.
Tatchell said: “Our message to Qatar is that the world is watching. We are here to shine a light on the regime’s abuse of women, of LGBTs and migrant workers. We are also sending a message of love and solidarity with those very brave Qataris who are struggling for democracy and human rights.”
On the eve of the World Cup’s opening match, he called for fans to boycott games, but to share stories about the situation in the country if they were still watching them.
“I can understand why fans would want to watch the matches. But I’d ask them to use their social media to amplify the human rights abuses in Qatar and to call out Fifa over its collusion with what is a sexist, homophobic and racist dictatorship,” he said.
Under the overcast skies of central London, the crowd of 50 people shouted “no freedom, no football”, and “shame on Fifa, shame on Qatar”. David Beckham’s name was booed and met with a chant of “shame on Beckham”. Once considered a gay icon, the former England captain has taken a reported £150m deal to promote Qatar.
The comedian Joe Lycett has said he will shred £10,000 of his own money on Sunday if Beckham does not end the sponsorship deal before the tournament starts, in a protest over Qatar’s laws – which include criminalisation of homosexuality.
On Saturday Lycett tweeted a photograph of what appears to be a stack of cash with the caption “24 hours to go… #benderslikeBeckham”.
Tatchell said: “It’s outrageous that celebrities like David Beckham, who claim to be allies of the LGBTQ+ community, have described the Qatar regime as ‘perfection’, despite the fact that LGBT Qataris are subject to online entrapment, ‘honour’ killing, jailing and forced conversion therapy.”
Carl Fearn, the co-chair of Gay Gooners, an LGBTQ+ group for Arsenal fans, called for Fifa, Uefa and the International Olympics Committee to never hold a tournament where being LGBTQ+ is criminalised.
“There should never again be a tournament held where it is possible to be executed for being LGBT+,” Fearn said. “Our protest is not about flying rainbow flags and holding hands. It goes deeper than that. It is about LGBT+ people’s right to exist, and exist equally with other people.”
On Saturday morning, the Fifa president, Gianni Infantino, gave a press conference where he appeared to brush aside concerns about human rights abuses in Qatar and said that criticism over LGBT+ rights would end up “closing doors”.
There was unhappiness about his comments, along with those of the foreign secretary, James Cleverley, who said fans should show “flex and compromise” and should “be respectful of the host nation”.
Fearn, 59 from Barrow-in-Furness, said that the Fifa head’s comments were “crass”, adding: “Personally, we have a foreign secretary of colour, which is absolutely fantastic and shows progressive Britain. However, if a foreign secretary had asked someone to be ‘less black’ at a tournament or a country, imagine the response. But he asked LGBT people to do that.”
Amelia Graham, a 15-year-old from east London who spoke tearfully at the protest, said: “I just feel so horrible for the people in Qatar who have no voice, people all around the world, and I felt it’s important as someone part of the LGBT community to stand up for people who are similar to me, or the same as me, or who need help.
“It’s emotional because people like me are struggling and being killed and arrested, it’s horrible. It’s important to speak out and do whatever we can.”
Earlier this week Beckham said Qatar and its ambassadors were changing lives for the better. “Every one of the great players I was lucky enough to play with started exactly the same way,” he told a youth festival in Doha. “In a back garden, park, or a street outside their home with just a ball and an imagination that they dared to let run wild.
“Almost two decades ago, a small group of football lovers from Qatar had an equally fantastic dream: that they could bring the greatest football show on Earth to their home country and to the Middle East for the very first time. And now we are here.”