Dicing with death: Grindr, Qatar and the World Cup (part two)

Doha, the glitzy capital of Qatar, is a contemporary city home to a booming economy driven by some of the world’s largest gas fields and filled with stylish shopping malls, luxurious hotels, rooftop bars and breakneck development, much of it as a result of this small Middle Eastern country winning funding the right, controversially, to stage the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

A country of under 3 million, Qatar gained independence from Britain in 1971. Though it’s fair to say their omnipresent push into modernity has left its LGBT rights stalled in the middle age, though they’re hardly unique in the Arab world. 

In the previous post, I recalled how I visited Qatar for the first time in 2014, as a slightly apprehensive guest of Frikkie van Zyl, a South African chap I’d met socially — i.e. platonically — in London once or twice. 

I was in Doha, the capital, with bits of just under a week to spare. So while the Afrikaner was settling into his new job with Qatar Airways, in the daytime I had the luxury of an empty hotel room with the four star promise of a constant supply of clean sheets and towels. 

After I got back from the pool (whence the emergence of a photo op kicked off), I decided to switch Grindr on to see — you know the drill — who was around. Naturally, I was nervous, because there are horror stories of queer men being subjected to assault, violence or even arrest because of such hook-up apps. But boys will be boys, right?

I may have come to be something of a digital nomad in recent years, but before I arrived in Qatar I’d only been on the briefest of visits to New York and Paris in the preceding four years. Either way, wherever I am in the world, in addition to seeing what the latest architecture looks like, and taking in a live show if possible, getting dirty with the natives is one of the things I like most about the liberating experience of travel. I mean, I’m no psychologist but I think there may be a direct neurological link between empty hotel rooms and sex drive. Perhaps someone could look into that and get back to me.

As my holidays to Egypt in 1997 and Dubai in 2005 had been pre-app, Qatar was the first stridently religious Muslim country I tried Grindr in. I’d heard the emirate, still far more traditional than its frantically Westernising UAE cousins to the south, was slowly liberalising on the road to its 2022 World Cup. Women with off-the-shoulder dresses were no longer being hissed at in the streets, for instance. But I’d also heard there were plans afoot to somehow identify gays at the border, and LGBT publications, as well as soon-to-be-ex FIFA chief Sepp Blatter were already warning footie fans about maybe refraining from kissing your boyfriend after a big goal.

I switched my head shot for a torso pic, and knew that meeting other foreigners in the this region is generally safer than meeting locals. With the natives you have to chat more with them to make sure they are not police. This advice goes for any Middle Eastern country, of course. Usually the so-called secret police masquerading as gay men understand little much about homosexuality and you can tell that all their notions are heteronormative about us. Thats how I dodged a few bullets in the past, such as Dubai, where in the time of pre-app Gaydar, the UAE authorities were constantly playing a game of catch-up, trying to block the website, after clever tech-heads found a way to modify the URL each time.

In Qatar, the maximum penalty for same-sex sexual activity (or any extramarital monkey business between anywhere) is execution. I could see how that could put a damper on the hook-up scene.

Anyway, despite the pall of death, I did have a couple of guys come over, though it was heart in mouth time until they’d come through the door and the only weapon they brandished was between their legs.

The moral of this story is that when it comes to a supposedly inclusive international event such as the World Cup, FIFA should not be endorsing a country with such backward thinking and laws. Not just on LGBTQ rights but women’s rights, animal rights, but, as horrifically documented, their health and safety laws that have seen so many killed or injured helping to build their PR version of a bright friendly Qatar. 

In my lifetime, Qatar is the only country to host the tournament that criminalises homosexuality. So for FIFA president Gianni Infantino to give that bizarre, defensive speech where he claimed the West “should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before giving moral lessons” is frankly breathtaking. Homosexuality wasn’t illegal in Argentina, Japan, South Korea, the USA or any European countries that have hosted the World Cup since my birth.

And coming after the 2018 tournament in Russia, this is all setting a really dangerous precedent where money and bribes and corruption will bag you the hosting rights despite the lack of civil rights in that country.

The matches so far have seen players being threatened with suspension if they wear a OneLove rainbow armband, and spectators having their rainbow hats taken off them as they enter the not exactly full stadiums.

Talking of which, Mike Bigmore, a Pinocchio-ish pal in Milton Keynes, asked me during Russia 2018 why I wasn’t there. 

“Why would I be?”

“Er, football, Steve.”

“I don’t really follow football.”

“But you take pictures of your feet around the world, so I would have thought a FOOTball match would be the perfect photo op.”

Crikey, it hadn’t occurred to me. Well, it was too late to get to Moscow but I’d unofficially self-imposed a ban on returning to Russia while Putin was in power anyhow.

“Where’s the next World Cup going to be?”

“Qatar.”

“Interesting. That’s where I started my felfie photography, at a hotel in Doha. It was January 2014 and I only did it as a laugh to make everyone back back in England jealous, because it was winter but I’ve got my feet up sunning myself at the pool.”

Qatar is usually regarded as the consistently hottest country in the world, which is another reason why their bagging of the World Cup is such a mercenary decision devoid of any morals, ethics or even empathy. Which is why you have the likes of money-grabbing egomaniacal narcissists like David Beckham and Robbie Williams getting involved.

As time has gone on, I did indeed toy with the idea of returning to the country and I’m very happy to say I’m writing this from my home in France. If you didn’t know, the French won 2018. Who will win 2022?

All those who choose to boycott this entire event and show up FIFA for the vile, reprehensible organisation it is.

Puttain.

Steve Pafford

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