As the World Athletics Championships in Doha kicks off today, we must use this opportunity to shine a light on the country’s treatment of LGBT people and remember that after the games are finished, their struggle continues. We must continue to stand in solidarity with them until all lesbian, gay, bi and trans people are accepted without exception.
Today, Friday 27th September 2019, marks the beginning of the World Athletics Championships which is this year being held in Doha, Qatar. This event brings together more than 1,900 athletes from 210 countries who will take part in 24 events over 10 days.
We know that sports can be an incredible way of uniting people and promoting social change. High-profile global sporting events like this bring with them unprecedented public attention to the host country and their treatment of minority populations, particularly LGBT people.
As we saw with the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2018 World Cup, the world learned more about the horrific experience of Russian LGBT people – particularly in Chechnya.
We are very aware that deeply concerning human rights violations are taking place in Qatar, who are also hosting the 2022 football World Cup. In his speech at the UN Commission on Human Rights last spring (February 2018), H.E. Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani, Deputy Prime Minister of Qatar reaffirmed the Qatari Government’s commitment to improve human rights across the country.
As the first of the two global sport events begins in Doha, we, along with other human rights organisations and defenders must hold them to account on this promise.
We want to ensure all fans and visitors attending the World Athletics Championships or the World Cup don’t do anything that puts themselves or others in danger.
Any LGBT person travelling to Qatar should follow the Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel guidance and be mindful that even well-meaning actions can sometimes lead to harsher applications of anti-LGBT laws.
It is important that those who want to stand up for equality use these moments of global attention as an opportunity to raise awareness of what is happening and continue this momentum in the run up to the 2022 World Cup. For those of us at home, we need to be allies to human rights defenders in other countries like Qatar. What the support looks like needs to be led by those on the ground, not us, but we need to be ready to respond.
We can’t forget that once the last race is run and the media spotlight goes elsewhere, life goes on for LGBT people in Qatar.