On Monday, Sepp Blatter, perhaps the least politically correct president in the history of FIFA (and that’s saying something), cast a dubious show of support for gay soccer fans, but not before jokingly (?) insinuating they should stay in the closet.
At a press conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, Blatter took questions about FIFA’s December 2nd vote to host the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. One reporter asked how gay fans who attend the tournament would be treated in Qatar, where homosexuality remains criminalized and sodomy is punishable by up to five years in prison. Blatter responded, with a smile:
I would say that they should refrain from any sexual activities.
He went on to contradict his joke, dismissing concerns about gay fans being able to enjoy the Cup:
We are living in a world of freedom, and I’m sure that when the World Cup will be in Qatar, and this will be in 2022, and you see in the Middle East, the opening of this culture. It’s another culture because it’s another religion, but in football, we have no boundaries. We open everything to everybody, and I think there shall not be any discrimination against any human beings. … If people want to watch a match in Qatar in 2022, they will be admitted to matches.
The mixed message drew a huge uproar from the blogosphere, including gay rights groups and people who were already pissed that FIFA chose Qatar as the host. The Gay Football Supporters’ Network demanded that Blatter retract his comments and apologize (when Qatar won its bid for the 2022 Cup, the organization made the more-dramatic call for boycott), while the Justin Campaign, a group that highlights homophobia in soccer, urged gays and lesbians to attend the Cup. Jason Hall, the founding director of the Justin Campaign, said,
We should encourage LGBT people to go over to Qatar and rub salt in the wounds… It wouldn’t register with the wider community if we didn’t go. And at least people in Qatar will experience gay people in their country and it would give hope to LGBT people living there… The World Cup didn’t go to South Africa during the apartheid years, and it shouldn’t go to… Qatar now.
John Amaechi, a gay former NBA player, made strong points on his own blog about the broader significance of Blatter’s joke.
This is yet another case where the epic, archaic, Neanderthal ignorance of someone who wields the power to summon kings, princes, presidents and prime ministers to bid at their pleasure uses that power not to foster positive change but to further entrench bigotry… Blatt’s words aren’t really about sex… He’s really saying don’t even ‘look’ gay, re-closet yourself and pretend the ties and love and affection you have for your partner or even some random bloke you might meet on your travels are gone for the whole time you are in Qatar.
Still, as the Bilerico Project pointed out, it’s not like Blatter’s comments have demonstrated any divergence from FIFA’s historical relationship with the LGBT community. Uruguay was selected to host the very first World Cup in 1930, and it didn’t decriminalize homosexuality until 1934. Then in 1962, Chile hosted—more than 35 years before homosexuality was legal. And England didn’t repeal its sodomy law until 1967, a year after the Cup took place there. Hell, even when the United States hosted the World Cup in 1994, Michigan, Texas, and Florida had sodomy bans on the books.
Clearly, pleasing gay and lesbian fans isn’t one of FIFA’s biggest priorities.
—Photo via Wikimedia Commons