Sepp Blatter's joke isn't so funny to gay-rights activists
FIFA President Sepp Blatter's apparent attempt at a joke regarding homosexual fans attending the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has infuriated gay-rights activists.
Speaking at the launch of a post-2010 World Cup legacy project Monday in South Africa, Blatter was asked if he could foresee any cultural problems with the tournament being held in Qatar, where homosexual activity is illegal.
"I'd say they [gay fans] should refrain from any sexual activities," Bladder said with a smile, followed by a chuckle when his comment drew some muffled laughter from the crowd.
He then took a more serious approach.
"We are definitely living in a world of freedom and I'm sure when the World Cup will be in Qatar in 2022, there will be no problems," Blatter said. "You see in the Middle East the opening of this culture, it's another culture because it's another religion, but in football we have no boundaries. We open everything to everybody and I think there shall not be any discrimination against any human beings be it on this side or that side, be it left, right or whatever."
He added: "I think there is too much concern for a competition that will be done only in 12 years.
"But this gives me the opportunity to say that in FIFA, and this is in the statutes of FIFA, whether it is in politics, whether it is in religion, we don't want racism, and we know what this means, and neither do we want discrimination. What we want is just to open this game to everybody and open it to all cultures and this is what we are doing in 2022."
Juris Lavrikovs, communications director for the European branch of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Assn., said Bladder's comments were “very unfortunate and have left people deeply offended.”
“I think they should come out with a strong statement and not just wash it away and hide behind it with some wishy-washy comments,” Lavrikovs told the Associated Press. “We are talking about a very basic human right that is being violated.
“This is not a joke, this is a matter of life and death to people. Qatar and more than 70 other countries in the world still criminalize individuals for homosexual relationships, and some countries even punish them by death sentence.
“It's disappointing to see that an organization that is promoting the game, which in its statutes condemns discrimination of any kind, is coming out with comments like this.”
British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: “Sepp Blatter jokes about the risk to gay visitors in 2022, but Qatar's anti-gay policies are no laughing matter.”
Former NBA player John Amaechi, who revealed he is gay in 2007, said on his website: “The statements and the position adopted by Sepp Blatter and FIFA regarding LGBT (lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender) fans who would pay the enormous ticket and travel prices to attend the World Cup in 2022 should have been wholly unacceptable a decade ago.
“Instead, with little more than an afterthought, FIFA has endorsed the marginalization of LGBT people around the world.”
-- Chuck Schilken
The Associated Press contributed to this report.