Holding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is akin to staging it in apartheid South Africa, according to the new chief executive of Kick It Out.
Tony Burnett, who started work at the anti-discrimination body at the start of the month, said the men’s game had much more to do to create an inclusive environment where homosexual players felt comfortable to come out.
And he said it sent the wrong signal to stage the game’s biggest event in a country where homosexuality is illegal.
He told the PA news agency: “Ten years ago we awarded the World Cup to a country where it’s illegal to be gay. Forget the human rights abuses – we awarded the World Cup to a country where it’s still illegal to be gay – what message does that send?
“To me that’s exactly the same as awarding a World Cup to apartheid South Africa, and telling black players, ‘that’s fine, we’re just trying to build their knowledge and build their educational awareness’.
“It’s not appropriate, and what does that say to the lesbian and gay community about how seriously we take these issues when we’re prepared to support a country which thinks it’s not OK to be gay in hosting the biggest football event on the planet?”
Burnett said there would be a “significant” proportion of players, support staff and coaches in the men’s game who would identify as being gay, and that lessons could be learned from how players at the top level of women’s football were able to be so open about their sexuality.
Currently, there are no openly gay players in the men’s professional ranks.
“The women’s game has got a far more inclusive culture where gay footballers feel able to be themselves,” he said.
“We’ve got to look at that and say why is that not translating into the male game?
“We’ve got some serious questions to ask about why we have not got an inclusive culture within the male game where people still don’t feel able to be themselves.
“There is a lot of work to do. And that’s not me pointing fingers and saying ‘it’s the clubs, it’s the Premier League’, collectively we’ve got to understand why that is and we have got to take some serious action.
“Football clubs are like any other workplace, and we have legislation in other workplaces where, if people wanted to be themselves, they are supported through legislation to do that. Why does that not apply to football?”
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has previously promised a “discrimination-free” Qatar World Cup, and told PA in 2019: “Every single fan will be welcome and this is not only me saying that, but a full commitment made by our partners in Qatar.
“In accordance with our statutes and policies, it is our responsibility to ensure a discrimination-free World Cup and in the past years we have been working, together with Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, on a list of measures that will ensure an inclusive experience for everyone.”