By Femke Colborne
A Qatari World Cup ambassador called homosexuality a “damage in the mind” in a German TV interview, sparking criticism in Europe and the United States Tuesday just 12 days before the tournament kicks off.
Qatar will accept gay visitors but “they have to accept our rules”, former international footballer Khalid Salman said in the interview with the ZDF broadcaster that aired Tuesday evening.
Salman also said homosexuality was “haram” — forbidden in Islam — during the interview, which was abruptly broken off after his comments.
Qatar has come under sustained fire over its human rights record ahead of the World Cup, including its treatment of foreign workers and its stance on women’s and LGBTQ rights.
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser on Tuesday called Salman’s comments “awful”.
“That is also the reason why we are working to hopefully improve things in Qatar in the future,” said Faeser, who is also Germany’s minister for sport.
The anti-LGBTQ remarks also raised eyebrows in Washington.
“Obviously, those comments were of a great concern,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. “I suspect we’ll be addressing that directly” with the Qataris.
Last month the United States urged “patience and tolerance” from Qatari authorities when the Gulf nation hosts football fans at the high-profile tournament.
Germany’s Faeser said last week on a visit to Qatar that she will attend the World Cup after being given a “guarantee of safety” for LGBTQ fans by Qatar’s prime minister.
‘Homophobic basic attitude’
The German minister on Tuesday said she had “no new indications from him that anything has changed”.
Faeser described her trip to Qatar as “not easy” and said it had been “important for me to hold talks there to see who would do what for the safety of German fans during the World Cup.”
German lawmakers joined Faeser on the visit, but the German government’s human rights commissioner Luise Amtsberg pulled out.
Faeser had previously said Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup was “very tricky” from Berlin’s perspective, prompting Doha to summon the German ambassador.
German Football Association (DFB) president Bernd Neuendorf said he was “stunned” by the World Cup ambassador’s comments.
Salman’s remarks showed “a very problematic relationship with human rights,” Neuendorf told German daily Bild.
“In our view, FIFA should seriously examine whether its ethics committee should deal with this.”
The German Lesbian and Gay Association (LSVD) demanded that the government issue a travel warning for Qatar and cancel all official trips to the World Cup.
It called the comments “disturbing and yet not surprising”, alleging that they revealed the “homophobic basic attitude of the regime in Qatar”.
The Human Rights Watch group has accused Qatar of detaining and abusing LGBTQ people in the run-up to the World Cup, allegations furiously denied by the government.
Calls for boycott
Captains from a number of leading European countries, including England, France and Germany, have said they will wear armbands in rainbow colours with the message “One Love” during the tournament in an anti-discrimination campaign.
World Cup organisers did not immediately respond when asked for comment by AFP but have previously defended the country’s rights record.
“No matter your race, your religion, your social and sexual orientation, you are most welcome, and Qataris are ready to receive you with the best hospitality that you can imagine,” FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura said last week.
But Wenzel Michalski, the head of Human Rights Watch in Germany, on Tuesday warned there was “a big risk” that open displays of homosexuality in Qatar “will be punished — no matter what assurances there are”.
Fans in stadiums across Germany have called for boycotts of the tournament.
In Dortmund last weekend, fans in the club’s yellow wall — the all-standing southern stand — unveiled a banner saying “BOYCOTT QATAR 2022”.
Germany play Japan in their opening match on November 23.