Over the past two years, the western world pushed inclusivity and sensitivity to the various struggles of groups in society. Simply put, this is a sensible push considering the decades of stereotypes, misunderstandings and violence towards these groups.

Many big-name brands have jumped on board to support, among many things, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. It didn’t just stop at brands. Artists, athletes, sports leagues and more decided to throw their support behind the cause. For what it is worth, FIFA is no different.

FIFA started using slogans like “Say No To Racism” and “Stop racism, stop violence”. FIFA displayed these banners on advertising boards around pitches in countries allowing them. Plus, FIFA encouraged entire teams to kneel before kickoff in conjunction with the voices against racism. Then, international matches and the Premier League featured rainbow-colored armbands. A nice touch towards the LGBTQ+ community to show the players and game stand with them.

FIFA talks about inclusivity at the World Cup, fails to deliver

Yet, all of this seems to be for nothing when you look at their actions. Take the biggest example possible in which country is hosting the 2022 World Cup.

It is no secret that Qatar’s government does not see eye-to-eye with FIFA in its empowerment of the LGBTQ+ community. Before this was a concern, however, Qatar already served as a puzzling choice for the World Cup. Brutally hot summers, timing issues and a glaringly poor human rights record are three of the main culprits. Finances plays a huge role in why the World Cup is there. Sepp Blatter, who led FIFA when Qatar won the hosting rights, even admitted this to be a mistake.

FIFA’s World Cup in Qatar will be unlike any other before it. Strict laws in Qatar do not align with much of the western world. For example, there is no alcohol served in stadiums, and the usual party atmosphere of the World Cup follows more caution than anything. The issues regarding LGBTQ+ lives just stack onto that.

Mixed signals

Qatar, welcoming the world to a fairly small country, did state it would not restrict the display of pro-LGBTQ+ imagery. That is part of FIFA’s inclusivity policies at the World Cup.

However, in April 2022, a senior official for the Qatar World Cup said there are plans to confiscate pride flags from spectators. Chairman of Qatar’s National Committee General Al Ansari talked to the AP about how it could unfold.

“If he (a fan) raised the rainbow flag and I took it from him, it’s not because I really want to, really, take it, to really insult him, but to protect him. Because if it’s not me, somebody else around him might attack (him) … I cannot guarantee the behavior of the whole people. And I will tell him: ‘Please, no need to really raise that flag at this point.’”

In May 2022, some accommodations listed out by FIFA outright refused to provide lodging to same-sex couples. At the same time, other hotels indicated they would accept reservations for same-sex couples, so long as they hid their relationship in public.

The current penalty for not following Qatar’s LGBTQ-based laws is a fine or up to seven years in prison. If you are Muslim and break these rules, the penalty could be death. These laws are a clear point of concern for anyone in the LGBTQ community be it spectators, staff or players.

LGBTQ+ on the field

Cultural differences are what make certain areas special, that is just a part of life. However, there is potential for those rules to go against the inclusion FIFA welcomed with its words.

There is more and more representation in sport from members of the LGBTQ+ community. Take Australian Josh Cavallo. He came out to the public back in October 2021. The 22-year-old plays for Adelaide United as a left-back or midfielder. He could face a gut-wrenching decision. With Qatar’s stance on LGBTQ+ set in stone, Cavallo may choose not to go with Australia to ensure his safety or simply avoid being an outsider at the world’s biggest sporting event.

Despite the inherent dangers listed out for the LGBTQ+ community, Cavallo said he would love to represent Australia. Even then, he understands the risks associated with going to the country. Yet, not every player, staff member or fan that is part of the community is willing to take that risk.

Cavallo is one of the few active players to come out openly as gay. His brave admission came based on freedom of his own identity. He wants to open the door for other players to do the same, should they feel that way. Cavallo received praise and admiration for his actions, including from Zlatan Ibrahimović and Antoine Griezmann. At the time, there were no openly gay males playing professional soccer at a top level in Europe. Then, in 2022, Blackpool forward Jake Daniels became just the second player to openly come out. That was until Blackpool forward, Jake Daniels came out in 2022 and became only the second player to openly come out.

It is surely incorrect to assume that there are just two players in top-flight soccer in the LGBTQ+ community. However, why would players come out knowing that it would draw more attention given the World Cup is in a place like Qatar?

Talking without purpose

FIFA can say they’re a progressive organization working to accommodate and include minorities and social groups. Yet, its actions fail to reflect that goal.

Instead, the actions prioritize monetary gain and greed more than they do inclusiveness. It is frankly inconvenient for the players. Plus, this is just one scope on the general slate of issues on the World Cup in Qatar.

A desert World Cup requires fully air-conditioned stadiums to be accessible. The timing disrupts the usual league and cup calendar in Europe, which houses almost all of the greatest players. To top it off, around 6,500 workers died preparing for this World Cup. That, by itself, makes it hard to believe that FIFA cares about minority groups. Horrifyingly enough, this number is on the low end. It does not include the deaths of workers from countries such as Qatar, the Philippines and Kenya. Data from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal revealed there were 5927 deaths of migrant workers between 2010 and 2020 while reports from the Pakistan embassy in Qatar said that 824 deaths of Pakistani workers had been sustained between 2010 and 2020.

On the surface level, FIFA ticks the boxes for inclusivity at the World Cup. Take a step back and look properly at the situation. You see that there is still immense work to be done for the organization at large.

Luckily, brave faces like Australian Josh Cavallo and Englishman Jake Daniels blaze the trail for the next generations.

PHOTO: Dean Mouhtaropoulos – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images