Rainbow flags will be allowed in stadiums at the 2022 World Cup as Qatar said anti-LGBTQ laws would not be enforced at matches to comply with FIFA regulations promoting tolerance and inclusion.
With less than two years until the tournament, though, concerns persist about the treatment facing gay fans in Qatar due the conservative religious code prohibiting same-sex relations that conflict with FIFA's stance against homophobia.
FIFA said it was determined to push Qatar on staging a tournament that is inclusive when the World Cup heads to the Middle East for the first time.
"I'm an openly gay woman in football, so this is personally, to me, something I'm close to as well," FIFA chief social responsibility and education officer Joyce Cook told The Associated Press.
"We will see a progressive change in all of those aspects and rainbow flags, t-shirts will all be welcome in the stadium — that's a given. They understand very well that is our stance."
Qatar's World Cup leadership has offered FIFA the assurances that displays promoting LGBTQ rights will not be removed.
"When it comes to the rainbow flags in the stadiums, FIFA have their own guidelines, they have their rules and regulations," 2022 World Cup chief executive Nasser Al-Khater told the AP. "Whatever they may be, we will respect them."
The US State Department's most recent human rights report on Qatar highlights how LGBTQ people there largely hid their sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics due to an underlying pattern of discrimination."
Ahead of the staging Club World Cup last year, Qatar brought a member of Liverpool's Kop Outs supporters' group and his husband to the country to offer assurances that gay fans would be welcome.
"We have a country that's conservative, however we are a welcoming country," Al-Khater said from Doha.
"We are open and welcoming — hospitable. We understand the difference in people's cultures. We understand the difference in people's beliefs and so I think, again, everybody will be welcome and everybody will be treated with respect.
"Just like our culture is a culture of this world, we also expect people to respect our culture. I think there's a balance and there's a feeling that people will respect people from everywhere."
Anti-discrimination activists want Qatar to go further by changing the laws.
"What it doesn't do is help the LGBTQ+ Qatari community," said Chris Paouros, a member of the English Football Association's inclusion advisory board. "It's great for us to be able to go and put our flags up in the stadium, and that's wonderful during a World Cup. You want it to be the festival of football. But ultimately we do this work because we want to make sure that everybody can be free to be who they are and if you're a Qatari and you're not able to, then it just feels like window dressing.
Pressure will be intensified on Qatar ahead of the World Cup opening in November 2022.
"What I hope is…there's actual dialogue with the Qatari LGBTQ+ community and that they are not criminalised or denigrated and that actually we can make real lasting social change for Qataris," said Paouros, wearing a face mask featuring a rainbow flag and the crest of Premier League leader Tottenham.
Paouros is co-chair of Proud Lilywhites, a supporters' group for the London club. Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who also plays for World Cup champion France, was among the captains to wear armbands with a rainbow flag on over the weekend as part of the Premier League's Rainbow Laces campaign.
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