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Gay football fans are set to be offered 'safe houses' in Qatar after a World Cup ambassador described homosexuality as 'damage in the mind'.
The Football Association of Wales warned it 'can’t guarantee’ the safety of LGBTQ+ and female supporters travelling to the hardline Gulf state.
Officials are considering setting up a 'safe house’ zone where fans can be themselves without fear of arrest in a country where homosexuality is punishable by up to seven years in jail and women's rights are restricted.
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The move came as tournament ambassador Khalid Salman – a former Qatari footballer – told German public broadcaster ZDF he had a problem with children seeing gay people.
Salman said being gay was 'haram' – forbidden in Arabic – and homosexuality is a spiritual 'harm'.
"During the World Cup many things will come here to the country,’’ he said. "Let's talk about gays. The most important thing is everybody will accept that they come here. But they will have to accept our rules.’’
The interview was cut short by a World Cup organising committee press officer.
The Welsh FA's senior equalities manager Jason Webber said they had sought safety assurances from tournament organisers but still felt the need to try and protect fans.
Wales is playing in its first World Cup finals in 64 years with 3,000 supporters expected to fly out. Jason said: "We’ve put many questions to the Supreme Committee and the Qatari Government.
"They are very firm on this stance that everyone is welcome and safe. However we can’t guarantee that as a national association. There are discussions ongoing for having almost a safe house area for women or those in the LGBTQ community.’’
He said the FA would provide 'as much information for those fans who are travelling' as possible.
Labour MP Luke Pollard warned it was 'not safe’ for LGBT+ supporters to go. He said: "I declare an interest as a massive gay but as an England-supporting homosexual it is not safe for someone like me to watch the World Cup in Qatar. Because of the human rights abuses of migrant workers and Qatar's LGBT population I personally don't think Qatar should ever have been awarded a major sporting competition.’’
Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, 86, said picking Qatar to host the tournament had been a mistake. "It’s a country that’s too small,’’ he said. "Football and the World Cup are too big for that. It was a bad choice. And I was responsible for that as president at the time."
He said he voted for the US as host and European football body UEFA – led by its then-president Michel Platini – had swung the ballot to the Gulf state.
Foreign Office minister David Rutley said Government officials had 'raised the concerns of LGBT+ visitors with Qatari authorities at all levels and will continue to engage on this issue ahead of and during the World Cup'.
"Qatar has repeatedly committed that everybody is welcome to the tournament and we will continue to encourage equal treatment and the respect of individual rights and identify what action the Qatari authorities are taking to match their commitment,’’ he added.
England FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said he had been given assurances LGBT+ fans will not be arrested for kissing or holding hands in public.
A spokesman for the Supreme Committee has said: "We have always said that this is a World Cup for all.
"Everyone is welcome – regardless of race, religion, gender or sexuality – and we’re excited to introduce the world to Qatar’s rich Arab culture and traditions."
A FIFA spokesman said: "Qatar as a host country is fully aware of its responsibility to adhere to FIFA’s expectations and requirements on human rights, equality and non-discrimination.
"Qatar is committed to ensuring that everyone will be able to enjoy the tournament in a safe and welcoming environment, to building bridges of cultural understanding and to creating an inclusive experience for all participants and attendees, including members of the LGBTIQ+ community.’’
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