If ever there was a time for soccer’s main man to keep the funnies to himself, it would be now.
The dust has barely settled on soccer’s governing body awarding the 2018 and 2022 World Cup’s to Russia and Qatar. Setting aside the various allegations that seem to go hand in hand with FIFA’s decision making process, most people can make the argument for Russia getting the greatest show on earth for the first time in its history. But Qatar has always been the tougher sell, in light of its unforgiving climate: both literally when it comes to the searing summer heat but also when you consider that it’s a country where homosexuality is deemed illegal.
Qatar’s stance made Blatter’s apparent joke Monday all the more puzzling. He was asked about the issue of gay supporters being in attendance and remarked that they, “should refrain from any sexual activities.” Some nervous laughter followed before Blatter tried to clarify his comment. “I’m sure when the World Cup will be in Qatar there will be no problems,” he said. “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. If they want to watch a match somewhere in Qatar 2022, I’m sure they will be admitted to such matches.”
Criticism of Blatter has been immediate. John Amaechi, the first NBA player to reveal that he’s gay, didn’t see the funny side, saying on his website that, “Anything less than a full reversal of his position is unacceptable and if the FA and football and sporting associations around the world fail to acknowledge this insult, they too will be complicit. If sport cannot serve to change society, even temporarily during the duration of an event like the World Cup that invites the world to participate, then it is little more than grown men chasing a ball and we should treat it as such.”
Gay groups had weighed in even before Blatter’s “joke,” with the Gay Football Supporter’s Network noting at the time of FIFA’s decision: “We strongly condemn FIFA’s decision and will be leading a LGBT [Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender] boycott of all activities associated with World Cup 2022. We do not feel the World Cup should be held in any country that abuses and disregards the basic human rights of LGBT people.”
Once again, the beautiful game has turned that bit uglier.