But for LGBTQ fans, it might not be immediately obvious. Same-sex sexual activity in Qatar is punishable by imprisonment, and potentially – although it is never known to have been carried out – even the death penalty.
Here’s our quick guide to what LGBTQ soccer fans visiting Qatar can expect.
What does the law in Qatar say about being LGBTQ?
Qatar has multiple laws that criminalize LGBTQ people, especially gay men.
Sex between adult men is prohibited and punishable by up to seven years in prison, according to a recent US State Department report. The same does not explicitly apply to women.
The Gulf state operates religious Sharia courts, legally allowing married Muslim men to be executed if found to have been involved in adultery. It is for this reason that the Human Dignity Trust, a London-based legal group that campaigns for LGBTQ rights around the world, includes Qatar on its list of 11 countries worldwide where the death penalty is a legal option for LGBTQ people, although they are not known to have ever been used specifically for this purpose in Qatar.
There have been recent reports of LGBTQ people being arrested and harassed in the Gulf state, including in the months leading up to the World Cup, according to a recent analysis by New York-based Human Rights Watch. Researchers from the organization documented six cases of severe and repeated beatings and five cases of sexual harassment by officials between 2019 and 2022 against four transgender women, a bisexual woman and a gay man. The Washington Post could not independently verify the accounts in the report.
For Qatar, the World Cup is a high-stakes test and show of might
What are the rules for LGBTQ fans inside official FIFA tournament zones?
FIFA, the world football organization that organizes the World Cup, insists that LGBTQ fans will be welcome along with all other visitors this year. At the same time, it advises travelers to respect local culture and use common sense, but provides scant details on what that entails.
Inside the official tournament zones, FIFA says fans will be able to express their identity however they want. “There is no risk; they are welcome to express themselves; they are welcome to express their love for their partners,” Gerdine Lindhout, FIFA’s head of fan services, told ITV News on Wednesday. “They won’t get in trouble for public displays of affection.”
But when asked by The Post about what guidelines exist outside the official zones, including where fan accommodation is located, a spokesman for the FA said by email that it was the responsibility of the host country, Qatar.
Is it safe for LGBTQ fans outside the tournament zones in Qatar?
Qatar has repeatedly insisted that everyone is welcome at this year’s World Cup and that LGBTQ people are no exception. The country is opening its doors “without discrimination,” ruling emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani told the UN General Assembly in September. The organizers have also publicly confirmed that there are no restrictions on who can share accommodation during a visit to the World Cup.
When contacted by The Post, Qatari organizers of the event suggested that all foreign travelers consider limiting public expressions of physical intimacy in accordance with local customs. “All are welcome in Qatar, but we are a conservative country and any public display of affection, regardless of orientation, is frowned upon,” officials said in an emailed statement. “We simply ask that people respect our culture.”
Despite promises to welcome everyone, attitudes toward LGBTQ people can be conservative in the country. Khalid Salman, a former Qatari soccer player and official ambassador for this year’s tournament, told German television in an interview published this month that homosexuality is “damage in the mind.”
The US Embassy in Doha urged American visitors to the tournament to take into account both cultural and legal differences and noted that “sex outside of marriage is illegal in Qatar”. The State Department advises that all same-sex sexual relations between men are also prohibited, even if consensual. “Punishments include flogging, lengthy prison terms and/or deportation. There is no law criminalizing same-sex sexual relations between women, although cultural norms are conservative,” according to the travel advice page for Qatar.
Britain, meanwhile, gave advice that seemed contradictory. In a radio interview last month, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly urged LGBTQ travelers to show “a little flexibility and compromise” when in Qatar, but the prime minister’s office later rebuked it, saying people should never “compromise who they are they are,” according to the Associated Press. The UK’s official council says: “Private life is widely respected in Qatar, but any intimacy between individuals in public may be considered offensive, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or intent.”
Human rights groups and football fan clubs have criticized FIFA’s decision to allow Qatar to host the event, with many LGBTQ fans unhappy with the way the association has handled their security concerns. “We received nothing but vaguely worded statements with no real substance,” three English groups representing LGBTQ fans it is stated in the joint statement this month, accusing FIFA of violating its own commitment to using football as a tool to promote human rights.
What steps can LGBTQ fans take to stay safe?
Antonio Pablo Herrero, a travel consultant specializing in LGBTQ tourism, has some blunt advice for LGBTQ fans: “If you want to be safe, don’t go there,” he told The Post.
However, for travelers who choose to visit, Herrero advises to hide any visible expressions of LGBTQ identity while in Qatar. That means thinking about the clothes you choose to wear, deleting LGBTQ-specific dating apps from your cellphone, and — if you’re traveling with a partner — making efforts to hide your relationship in public.
How have football teams expressed their support for LGBTQ fans?
In a show of solidarity, several top qualifying teams say they plan to put rainbow flags in their entourage and on their jerseys. The England team flew to Doha on a Virgin Atlantic plane named “Rain Bow” painted with the airline’s LGBTQ mascot. Team captains from several European countries, including Germany, say will bear the symbol of the rainbow around their arms on the pitch – regardless of whether or not FIFA allows it. The US national team has changed its official logo to include the seven colors of the LGBTQ rainbow, its coach said at a press conference last week, according to Reuters.
“When we’re on the world stage and when we’re in a place like Qatar, it’s important to raise awareness about these issues,” said Gregg Berhalter, head of the US team. “We are aware that Qatar has made strides and that there has been a lot of progress, but there is still work to be done.”