It’s hard to feel sympathy for Sepp Blatter very often, but reading this morning’s papers, I felt a little. The Belfast Telegraph reports that the FIFA president laughed off concerns that gay fans might experience problems at the 2022 World Cup, which is to be held in Qatar (there's even an illustration for Bobballs and his phwoaraway Tottygraph!).
Homosexuality is illegal in the Middle Eastern emirate, which operates Islamic law. Blatter’s advice to gay supporters is ’refrain from sex’ during the World Cup.
Predictably he’s being pilloried for this tongue in cheek remark, but he has a point. There are a hundred reasons why Qatar is an inappropriate venue for a World Cup and the prohibition on homosexuality is just one of them.
FIFA, sponsors, TV and embassies will no doubt all be lobbying the Qatari authorities to apply Islamic law leniently during the tournament. Still, the fact is that things are done differently there and all sorts of supporters will have to change their behaviour in deference to local customs.
There's quite a list of dos and don’ts for unmarried men and women, who are legally forbidden from cohabiting in Qatar. Take your partner, but keep a discrete distance people! In your western hotel things tend to be tolerated, but there won’t be too much public snogging by anyone, if the letter of the law applies.
Buying alcohol is permitted, but drinking it can be an offence. This isn’t going to be World Cup 2006. Fans who want to polish off foaming steins in beer tents are unlikely to be well catered for. Perhaps this is one for the Green and White Army to miss.
All of these cultural differences, as well as the tiny size of Qatar, its lack of football pedigree and the extreme climate, make it a curious choice for a World Cup. But it's not true to claim that the effect on gay supporters is the most overwhelming reason to revisit the decision.
As soon as FIFA’s decision was announced it was clear there were quite a few things, taken for granted in the west, visitors will need to ’refrain’ from doing in public.