Both the 2019 World Championships in Athletics and the 2022 World Cup international soccer tournament will be held in Qatar, a Middle Eastern country that criminalizes LGBTQ identity and offers zero LGBTQ rights. So it’s concerning to hear reports that the capital city of Doha has been censoring LGBTQ news from The New York Times and queer athletes have had to decide whether to risk arrest just by competing there.
ABC News reports that from April to July of this year, eight articles about LGBTQ issues had been removed from the New York Times International Edition, leaving empty space in their absence along with a small note stating that pieces had been “exceptionally removed.”
Among the censored articles was a column written by Minky Worden, director of global initiatives for Human Rights Watch (HRW), stating that Qatar’s anti-gay laws directly violate principals stated by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the world organization that governs international soccer matches and oversees the World Cup.
The 1979 Press and Publications Law allows the Qatari government to monitor and regulate all print publications, revoking licenses if a newspaper or magazine prints things “not in the national interest.” But both FIFA and Government Communications Office for the State of Qatar have promised to investigate the matter to see whether the newspaper’s local printer or a Qatari state agent are responsible for censoring LGBTQ articles.
Meanwhile, Tom Bosworth, an openly gay, 28-year-old British silver medalist in the 20-kilometer race, is expected to race at the 2019 World Championships in Athletics at Qatar next year.
But, he says, “I’ve told my fiancée, ‘Don’t even consider coming… I don’t want you or my family to come,'” because of Qatar’s anti-gay laws which punish homosexuality with up to seven years in prison. If Bosworth publicly speaks out against the country’s anti-gay laws, he risks an additional five year prison sentence for criticizing the Emir (the country’s ruling sovereign).
Qatar could host these international sporting events with few anti-LGBTQ incidents, much the same way that Russia did when it hosted the 2014 Winter Games and the 2018 World Cup.
FIFA, the International Association of Athletics Federations (the organization that coordinates the World Championships in Athletics), the media and corporate sponsors could all pressure Qatar to reform its anti-gay laws, but they’ll need to speak in a unified voice in order to create any societal change.
What do you think about hosting these sporting events in anti-gay Qatar?
Feature image by Karim Jaafsr via Getty Images