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David Beckham has been accused of “stamping out hope” for the LGBT+ community in Qatar because of his controversial promotional work for the country’s World Cup, which begins in just a few weeks’ time.
The accusation was made by Dr Nas Mohamed who earlier this year became the first Qatari to publicly out himself as gay. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar.
Dr Mohamed has written an open letter to the former England captain claiming, among other things, that the star was guilty of “taking money and looking the other way” because of his PR efforts for Doha. He also pleads with the star to use his “voice” and to “not be silent towards injustice”.
“You are stamping out hope for the LGBT community in Qatar,” writes the physician to the former footballer in a letter seen by The Independent.
“You show up… take money and look the other way. Furthermore, you send a message that there is truly no chance for us to escape our current persecution and live freely.”
He continues: “This whitewashing of the persecution of the LGBT community in Qatar does not just erase the pain of those suffering from it, but also undermines their pleas for asylum when they do escape. After all, if David Beckham describes Qatar as ‘perfection’, how bad could it really be?”
Dr Mohamed also claims the footballer’s PR work for Qatar helps deliver “an inaccurate representation” of life in Doha and “ignores the lived experience of the LGBT community”.
“Qatar’s LGBT+ community lives in fear for their lives. LGBT individuals in Qatar are at an increased risk of social rejection, honour killings, ‘conversion therapy’ and so much more,” Dr Mohamed writes.
He adds: “I am asking you [Beckham] to use your platform to amplify our voices and highlight that we are not OK”.
Beckham, who played at three World Cup finals for England, has reportedly been paid millions to publicise Qatar and football’s biggest tournament, which kicks off on 20 November. Recently he appeared in a video riding a motorbike around the Qatari capital, Doha, visiting museums and sampling local food markets, while promoting the country as an ideal “stopover” location.
On Monday he appeared at a summit at Doha’s Aspire sports academy.
The decision to promote Qatar has brought the normally PR-savvy former footballer plenty of criticism. The man who captained England 59 times, and ended an illustrious career at Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain, once claimed he was honoured to be known as a “gay icon”.
Just last week, his former Manchester United teammate Eric Cantona told The Athletic that his deal with Doha was a “big mistake”. Amnesty International has called on him to add his voice in protest at human rights abuses in the super-rich Gulf state. But Beckham has so far remained silent on such issues.
Many former footballers have been chosen as “global ambassadors” to promote Qatar, including Barcelona coach Xavi and Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o, who both lived and played football in Doha, but the Englishman’s involvement with a country widely criticised for its human rights abuses is seen as particularly controversial.
Dr Nas Mohamed calls on Beckham to sign a petition he has launched calling on Qatar to decriminalise homosexuality
Homosexuality can carry a punishment of several years in jail. A conservative and religious state, Qatar could theoretically apply the death penalty for the “crime”, although no such punishment has been recorded.
Dr Mohamed’s scathing letter, sent at the end of last month, is notable in that it is the first public condemnation of the footballer from a gay Qatari. The physician came out publicly in May, claiming he no longer wished to be “anonymous”.
That decision was described at the time as “groundbreaking” by rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
The Qatari has fled Doha and is seeking asylum in the United States. He says he has received everything from death threats – one person messaged to warn him he would be killed if he ever went home – to support from frightened LGBT+ Qataris after he came out.
In a response to the letter to Beckham, Mr Tatchell said the footballer was in danger of ruining his reputation and called on him to be “a voice for the oppressed”.
“I join Dr Mohamed in urging David Beckham to make a public statement condemning Qatar’s violation of the human rights of LGBTs, women and migrant workers,” he said.
Although The Independent has spoken to many Qataris who are gay, those in the Gulf are too fearful to come out publicly.
They have told of a life full of fear, anxiety and mistrust, one dominated by the need to keep something as natural as their sexuality hidden for fear of severe and, in the worst cases, fatal repercussions.
Hosting the World Cup will be a landmark event for Qatar, the first Arab nation to do so, as well as a huge source of national pride for many.
It has sought to shrug off Western criticism, but being awarded the tournament has come at a price. It has pushed a discreet and guarded society into a largely unflattering global spotlight and prompted fierce criticism of Doha’s poor human rights record, including its position on homosexuality.
The One Love armband that will be worn at the Qatar World Cup
The LGBT+ issue has become a flashpoint for the approaching tournament, leading some fans to worry about their safety when in Doha, while some fans have said they will not attend the event specifically because of the country’s laws on homosexuality.
Rainbow flags, a symbol of LGBT+, will be allowed at the World Cup. England have announced that captain Harry Kane will wear a “One Love” armband at the tournament.
World Cup organisers in the Gulf have constantly sought to reassure people that the country will welcome all visiting football fans during the tournament, regardless of their sexuality. Up to 1.5 million fans are expected to travel to Doha for the event.
Some Welsh LGBT+ supporters have said that they will not visit Qatar during the World Cup because of the country’s laws, claiming they would feel unsafe.
An aerial view of Khalifa stadium in Doha
Dr Mohamed’s letter, though, is aimed at addressing the concerns of locals more than those visiting for the World Cup. He also calls on Beckham to sign a petition he has launched calling on Qatar to decriminalise homosexuality, not just during the World Cup but permanently.
LGBT+ locals in Doha have told The Independent they do not want “Western saviours”, nor are they satisfied with Qatari authorities for turning a blind eye during the World Cup only. They are pressing to be treated equally and not be seen as “walking crimes” because of their sexuality.
David Beckham was approached for a response but a representative declined to comment.