Words: Alastair James; pictures: Pexels
A senior official overseeing security for the World Cup in Qatar has said that fans may have rainbow flags confiscated "to protect them from being attacked for promoting gay rights".
Major General Abdulaziz Abdullah Al Ansari has recently told the Associated Press that LGBTQ people will be welcome, a claim made by others in the run-up to the tournament.
Homosexuality is illegal in the Middle-Eastern country and punishable with up to three years in prison, or death under Sharia law.
"Somebody else around him might attack"
Al Ansari told AP: "If he (a fan) raised the rainbow flag and I took it from him, it’s not because I really want to, really, take it, to really insult him, but to protect him.
"Because if it’s not me, somebody else around him might attack (him) ... I cannot guarantee the behavior of the whole people. And I will tell him: 'Please, no need to really raise that flag at this point.'"
While he insisted all fans would be welcome in the Middle-Eastern country he said people should demonstrate their support for LGBTQ people "in a society where it will be accepted".
"Watch the game. That’s good. But don’t really come in and insult the whole society because of this," he added.
Al Ansari also said people could "Reserve the room together, sleep together" and that what people did personally was not Qatar's concern.
Given previous statements about flags being ok for the World Cup Chris Paouros, from the English Football Association’s inclusion advisory board and a trustee with the anti-discrimination group, Kick It Out said such inconsistency "is concerning to say the least."
A joint response from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association and the Football Supporters Europe group said: "Often, so-called 'protections' are in fact smokescreens to cover up human rights violations.
"FIFA and Qatar must address these concerns immediately, and show the world there is a chance of carrying out a rights-respecting and safe tournament for LGBTIQ fans."
In March, 16 LGBTQ groups signed a letter warning of safety risks and concerns for fans travelling for the World Cup.
The World Cup takes place in Qatar from 21 November to 18 December 2022.
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