Qatar World Cup May Allow Rainbow Flags, Political Protests

(Bloomberg) — Spectators at the upcoming Qatar World Cup could be allowed to stage peaceful protests, promote LGBTQ rights and even kiss in public.

A presentation created by FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 — an organizational body behind the latest tournament — detailed policing procedures that guide security officials to exercise “less intervention, more mediation” and practice “leniency towards behaviors that do not threaten physical integrity or property.”

Specifically, police officers are not to approach, detain or prosecute people displaying rainbow flags — a globally recognized symbol of LGBTQ pride — or disrupt fans marching and chanting in the streets. The presentation, seen by Bloomberg, also instructs security forces to leave protesters alone unless they create a “security issue.”

The guidelines could still change before the World Cup begins on Nov. 20. But if implemented they would mark a shift in policy for Qatar, which has faced criticism from activists, players, and foreign government officials about its record on policies that limit rights of women and LGBTQ people. The government has previously pledged it will welcome visitors of all sexual orientations, as long as they abide by a general rule against displays of public affection that also applies to heterosexual couples.

Several organizations are responsible for organizing the World Cup, including FIFA, Qatari security and logistic committees, as well as the government. The presentation describes the guidelines as being aligned with the Safety and Security Operations Committee, an entity made up of officials from FIFA and the Qatar Ministry of Interior created to manage security at the tournament.

A representative for the Qatar government declined to comment. A spokesman for the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the main Qatari organizing committee for the event, said it was aware of the document, but said it did not develop or approve its contents. A spokesperson for FIFA declined to comment. 

Human Rights Watch

“It’s important that the Qatari authorities issue a moratorium to charges that discriminate or criminalize peaceful exercise of human rights, but this should apply to all, not just to visiting fans, and be a first step towards repealing such crimes altogether,” said Rothna Begum, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

In addition, Begum urged Qatari authorities to “make clear that women will not face prosecution” if they report sexual violence or seek medical treatment since these types of crimes typically increase at major sporting events. “Otherwise, women may be deterred from reporting sexual violence or seeking health care fearing that they may end up prosecuted for consensual sex instead,” she said.

While organizers had insisted that people of all nationalities, religions and sexual orientations would be welcome at the event, they have previously held back from providing details about how they will deal with those who don’t respect the country’s laws and customs.

The presentation lays out a four-tier category of offenses, with penalties spanning no action, a warning, a fine and prosecution. It also refers to an online portal for reporting human-rights grievances.

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Women will be able to receive reproductive care irrespective of their marital status, and the documents say that “law enforcement could only get involved if there is a suspicion of sexual violence or abuse against the woman.” Women who have children outside of marriage can face imprisonment, given Qatari law forbids premarital sex.

Drunk fans, even those intoxicated enough to warrant time in ‘sobering tents’ won’t face legal action unless they’ve been driving or committing other offenses while under the influence. “Spectators taking clothes off to reveal intimate body parts may be asked to put the clothing back on,” the document says.

Diplomats have raised concerns with their Qatari counterparts about how security personnel will respond to unruly fans or those who don’t adhere to Qatar’s conservative modesty code.

Last month, the U.S. ambassador to Qatar, Timmy Davis, called on local officials to practice “patience and tolerance” when dealing with visitors who may not respect the country’s rules. 

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