FIFA President Sepp Blatter has said that gay football fans attending the World Cup in Qatar in 2022 “should refrain from any sexual activities” in the country, because same-sex sexual activity in Qatar is punishable by up to five years in prison. Judging by the reports on Sky News, Blatter found this very amusing.
It’s disappointing that the World Cup should go to a country where gay sex is still illegal, but international sporting events have been to much dirtier places than Qatar - most famously the Olympics in Berlin 1936. The idealist in me says that these plum events should be withheld from countries that refuse to meet basic standards in respect to civil rights, but sports have never been quite that sporting.
I assumed that this wasn’t the first time gay sex has been illegal in a host country, given that the tournament is eighty years old, so I cross-referenced two Wikipedia lists to see when this happened before - LGBT rights by country and FIFA World Cup hosts.
The next two hosts, Brazil and Russia, are in the clear. The same goes for the last several hosts, South Africa, Germany, South Korea, Japan and France. The last host country where gay sex was illegal was actually the United States of America in 1994. Sodomy was still illegal in fully half the 50 states in 1994; four of the tournament’s nine stadia were in states where gay sex was illegal. Why should FIFA take a moral position on this now, when the leader of the free world only deigned to join the 20th century in the 21st century?
Going back beyond 1994, we find that Colombia and West Germany both legalised gay sex five years before they hosted the World Cup, and Spain did so three years before it hosted. The last country to fail this test was… England, in 1966. England and Wales legalised sodomy in 1967. (Scotland and Northern Ireland followed in 1981 and 1982.) And with that realisation, any moral superiority I might have felt over the Yanks is diminished.
Chile failed the test in 1962, and didn’t legalise gay sex until 1999. The first host, Uruguay, failed in 1930, but legalised gay sex in 1934. So Qatar joins an ignominious list with four others; Uruguay, Chile, England and the USA. Qatar still has twelve years to get off this list, but I’m not optimistic. Qatar is one of about eighty countries that still has laws against gay sex, and it’s a Muslim country, so within its region it’s still well in the majority. It was one of the first Arab countries to give women the vote, and it only did that in 1999.
I won’t pretend that the legality of gay sex was ever a consideration in giving the World Cup to Qatar. I only wish that it had been. I suppose I can take some solace that a journalist asked the question at all. That’s a sign of how things have changed since Uruguay in 1930. Maybe one day gay rights will be the sort of issue that determines a country’s right to sit at the big boy table. It will help a great deal when countries like the US and the UK can boast that they offer full equality.