Qatar World Cup ambassador and former Qatar international footballer Khalid Salman said in an interview by German television ZDF that homosexuality is "haram" or forbidden, and described it as "damage to the mind", CNN reported.
This comes less than two weeks before the start of the 2022 World Cup tournament.
Qatar will host the FIFA World Cup from Nov. 20 to Dec. 18 and is expecting 1.2 million visitors in the country, boosting tourism by $17 billion, according to Bloomberg.
However, Khalid was adamant that visitors to Qatar need to respect the country's rules.
Off to a shaky start
In the interview, Khalid addressed the issue of homosexuality being illegal in Qatar.
He commented that "during the World Cup, many things would come into the country. For example, let's talk about gays. The most important thing would be that everyone would accept that they come here. But they would have to accept our rules."
He described homosexuality as "haram" or forbidden according to Islamic law.
He had concerns about children seeing homosexuals, citing that they might learn "something that is not good".
"I am not a strict Muslim but why is it haram? Because it is damage to the mind," he told ZDF.
The interview was stopped by a World Cup committee press officer.
Backlash from activists & footballers
His comments drew sharp criticisms from human rights activist Rasha Younes, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, who called Salman’s comments “harmful and unacceptable.”
#Qatar #WorldCup ambassador's suggestion that same-sex attraction is “damage in the mind” is harmful and unacceptable. The Qatari government's failure to counter this false information has a significant impact on the lives of Qatar's #LGBT residents.https://t.co/jvTjDYwGAc
— Rasha Younes (@Rasha__Younes) November 8, 2022
"The Qatari government's failure to counter this false information has a significant impact on the lives of Qatar's LGBT residents," she tweeted.
Qatar's hosting of the World Cup has put the spotlight on the state's laws against homosexuality, treatment of foreign workers and human rights situation.
Homosexuality is illegal in the conservative Muslim country, and Salman's comments have raised concerns over the potential treatment of LGBT fans and players during the World Cup.
The issue has also led to criticisms by football leaders in the fraternity.
German footballer Leon Goretzka has criticised the comments by Khalid, saying the comments are "very oppressive. This is an image of a man that comes from another millennium".
The German Football Association (DFB) president Bernd Neuendorf said he was "stunned" by the World Cup ambassador's comments, according to the BBC.
English captain Harry Kane is likely to wear a rainbow anti-discrimination armband, despite the item potentially being banned by football's global governing body FIFA, SkySports reported.
Focus on football
Amidst the concerns and criticisms, Qatar's World Cup chief Nasser Al Khater told SkySports that "everybody is welcome" as long as people "respect [their] culture."
"At the end of the day, as long as you don't do anything that harms other people, if you're not destroying public property, as long as you're behaving in a way that's not harmful, then everybody's welcome and you have nothing to worry about."
Although Al Khater has said fans can display rainbow flags, he said "it's a FIFA matter" whether approval is given for footballers to wear multicoloured "One Love" armbands that highlight discrimination.
He has also criticised the politicisation of the sport, claiming that "it is not right" to use sports as "a platform for political statements."
FIFA has also issued a statement urging everyone to simply focus on the sport, and to not drag it into "every political and ideological battle that exists."
Top photo via Twitter