Qatar’s ambassador to the UK, Fahad bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah has defended the treatment of gay people ahead of the World Cup but he also has warned visitors need to be “mindful of the norms and cultures of Qatari society” when it gets underway during the tournament in November.
In an interview on Times Radio, the diplomat was asked how the Qatari authorities would react if a same-sex couple, particularly two men, held hands and showed affection such as by kissing in public.
Mr. bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah said holding hands in the streets is “totally permitted”.
“I would not comment on any hypothetical scenarios,” he said. “But I would say that public displays of affection would probably be unlawful here in the UK.”
Host Ayesha Hazarika replied: “That’s not true.”
“In that instance, I would say holding hands is totally permitted in any culture, even in our culture – come and hold any hands, that’s not a problem at all,” the ambassador continued.
“But there are certain interpretations of what would be a public display of affection, in a particular country, that might be different in another, so I think one has to just be mindful of the norms and cultures of Qatari society in that respect.”
When Ms. Hazarika if gay couples could share rooms, he said: “Again, you know, when you come to the check-in desk, they’re not going to ask you whether you’re gay or lesbian to have a room at any hotel.
“You could stay with as many people as you want, whether you’re gay or lesbian, it’s up to you. So I think there is no issue on that front.”
Mr. bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah was also asked how many people died building the World Cup stadiums.
Responding, he said: “I don’t have the exact figures with me. But in general, the overall mortality rate per 100,000 is well below the international average rate.”
The ambassador’s comments come after foreign secretary James Cleverly said LGBT football fans heading to Qatar should be “respectful of the host nation” and “make some compromises”.
Mr. Cleverly added: “One of the things I would say for football fans is, you know, please do be respectful of the host nation.
“They are trying to ensure that people can be themselves and enjoy the football, and I think with a little bit of flex and compromise at both ends, it can be a safe, secure and exciting World Cup.”
He also told Sky News: “These are Muslim countries, they have very different cultural starting point for us. I think it’s important when you’re a visitor to a country that you respect the culture of your host nation.”
The minister’s statement sparked backlash, with Gary Lineker tweeting: “Whatever you do, don’t do anything Gay. Is that the message?”