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30th Dec, 2022

World Cup highlights need for queer representation

Jo Bailey, the Women’s Officer for Pride in Football and co-chair for Pride of Irons - West Ham’s LGBTQ+ and allies fans group, reflects on the legacy of the Qatar World Cup.

I have been going to England’s men’s matches a lot more in the last year or so, through being part of Three Lions Pride - but going to Qatar was out of the question for me.

Everybody around our community, no matter what group they were from, was really anxious about this World Cup. If we’d travelled with rainbow flags, what might the repercussions from that have been for the silent community of Qatari LGBTQ+ people?

We were told rainbows weren’t a political symbol and that they would be allowed in stadiums but really, we were just waiting for them to be confiscated. Some folks have been detained and even strip searched.

It’s disappointing, but not surprising. It shows we were right to advise all our fan groups not to attend. We’re very grateful to our allies out there who have been our representatives.

All the ‘everyone is welcome’ talk has been nothing but broken promises. What we must take from this is a minimum criteria for what’s acceptable from bids and organisers. We need to bombard FIFA to ensure that proper assessments are made in the future.

As women’s officer, I’m naturally concerned about human rights issues that affect women who love football in countries like Qatar. I’ve read up on these issues and there are so many layers and barriers. Some women aren’t allowed to play the game in front of men, which of course limits their opportunities to be active in the sport.

For our LGBTQ+ groups, the World Cup has had a big impact. We only really used to look at ourselves within the UK but now we’re looking at what difference we can make further afield, and supporting projects like Dr Nas Mohamed’s Alwan Foundation which will aim to advance LGBTQ+ rights in Qatar and the wider Gulf region.

I know some travellers to Qatar, including women, have spoken about having good experiences at this tournament because they’ve felt safe out there. However, they must remember that’s set within a boundary. You have to try to live in somebody else’s shoes for a while to really start to understand their truth.

Back here, we can’t be complacent on discrimination. For example, with more people attending women’s games, misogyny, racism, homophobia and transphobia are creeping in.

For me, it all comes back to the fact that we need more queer representation in senior positions throughout football, and of course more women’s voices, so that there are people who have that understanding of discrimination. Then they can be our voices too. We’re simply not heard enough at the moment, unfortunately.

Kick It Out’s Vice Chair, Chris Paouros, is urging the football family to focus on FIFA’s failings. Join 115,000 people who have already called for an urgent overhaul of FIFA by signing the petition here.