The World Cup in Qatar is a reminder that – as a bisexual woman – my footballing heroes don’t care about me
After 12 years of controversy, the 2022 World Cup is finally underway in Qatar, with the host nation falling to a humiliating defeat against Ecuador in the tournament’s opening game. But, like many viewers, I didn’t tune in for the lacklustre football; instead, I wanted to see how the pundits could possibly justify covering the competition.
Qatar’s successful bid to host the World Cup has been overshadowed by allegations of corruption and bribery – an internal FIFA investigation cleared Qatar of committing any violations – as well as serious concerns about the country’s stance on human rights. As reported by Amnesty International, Qatar has a poor record of migrant workers’ rights (particularly for live-in women domestic workers), women’s rights, and LGBTQIA+ rights – homosexuality is illegal.
The great justification for the British media – and indeed the English team – not boycotting the World Cup was to use their influence to highlight and challenge the dire human rights concerns in Qatar: to “use their voice”, as Gareth Southgate explained in March earlier this year (via The Times).
At the time, the England boss added, “We feel the World Cup is an opportunity to highlight some of these issues, and we have a platform to be able to do that. We’ve also got to do that in a responsible way.” Soo err, what “responsible way” did they go for? Perhaps a soft-core show of solidarity in the form of rainbow armbands? Nope, even this was too much to ask.
To the nation’s eternal shame, the England team walked onto the pitch without wearing the “One Love” armbands, which don’t even reference sexuality beyond the rainbow colour scheme. It would have been a lukewarm gesture at best, but they weren’t even capable of that. The rationale for not wearing the bands was that the players could not be put “in the situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play.” God forbid.
This utterly spineless decision by the FA comes barely a day after a gunman killed five people and left at least 25 injured in an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs – on Transgender Day of Remembrance, no less. And Harry Kane won’t wear a rainbow armband for fear of receiving a yellow card.
I’ve always believed that football can – and should –be a force for good. It’s often the sole common thread that unites people who are different in every other imaginable way. For this reason, many footballers and pundits have ‘used their platforms’ to speak up on social justice issues: There’s Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United forward, who effectively pressured the UK government into a U-turn on free school meals; Gary Neville, the Sky Sports pundit, who – at one point – was considered a better leader of the opposition than Keir Starmer; Gary Linekar, the Match of the Day presenter who regularly tweets about politics, and every single Premier League player who chose to take the knee to “protest” discrimination in the sport.