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Bierhoff voices Qatar World Cup doubts

June 23, 2022

German national team manager Oliver Bierhoff has raised concerns over the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, given gender inequality in the country. Meanwhile the German FA has made its own statutes more inclusive.

Oliver Bierhoff looking concerned, speaking at a microphone
Bierhoff said the DFB should help ensure 'tournaments are only awarded to countries in which such things don't happen' Image: Ronny Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images

Oliver Bierhoff, general manager for the German national football team, has expressed serious concerns over the decision to host this year's World Cup in Qatar.

Responding to research by German broadcasters RTL and n-tv into the treatment of members of the LGBTQ+ community in the Gulf state, Bierhoff voiced doubts, questioning: "How could FIFA award [the World Cup] to this country?"

Former Germany international Bierhoff, 54, said he had initially felt it was right for competitions such as the World Cup not to be confined to traditional footballing hotbeds such as Europe and South America, but has since reevaluated his thoughts given the human rights issues in Qatar.

"On the one hand, I always thought at first: 'Who does football belong to? Does it belong to Europe, to South America or does it belong to the whole world?" he said.

"But the world has changed. The demands, the expectations of the fans, of the people [have changed]. We have to consider that, too."

Why is Qatar 2022 so controversial?

Bierhoff added that the fact that "issues like stadiums or commercial interests took priority" [when awarding the tournament to Qatar] is worthy of criticism, and that "not enough attention was paid to aspects like human rights or other social issues."

'Existential fear of punishment and death'

Bierhoff's doubts were aired in a documentary broadcast on Thursday in Germany entitled "Red Cards Instead of Rainbows: Homosexuals in Qatar," in which one homosexual interviewee speaks of living in constant dread.

"We live in existential fear of punishment and death," they said. "We learned as children that being gay is an aberration, that it's not natural."

Questions over human rights abuses have been consistently raised since the awarding of FIFA's flagship tournament to the tiny, oil-rich emirate in 2010. At Germany's most recent game, a Nations League match against Italy last week, fans unveiled a banner urging a boycott of the World Cup.

Concerns have ranged from working conditions on World Cup-related construction sites, to fatalities among migrant workers brought in to build stadiums and infrastructure for the tournament, to the safety of LGBTQ+ fans hoping to attend the event, which kicks off in November.

In May, the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, told a news conference in Berlin that homosexual supporters would be welcome but added that the country's culture needed to be "respected."

"We will not stop anybody from coming and enjoying the football," he said. "But I also want everybody to come and understand and enjoy our culture. We welcome everybody, but also we expect and we want people to respect our culture."

Bierhoff would not recommend Qatar to LGBTQ+ friends

Bierhoff, who came on board at the German Football Association (DFB) with former head coach Joachim Löw in 2004 and this year took on the position of CEO of National Teams and Academy, admitted he was unsure on whether he would recommend personal friends from the LGBTQ+ community to travel to Qatar.

While the former Euro '96 winning forward believes assessing the risk of attending the tournament is a personal decision, he also expressed hope that there will be a "degree of leniency" during the World Cup that could offer some security — as was the case in Russian host cities during the 2018 tournament.

However, in relation to a friend "from the Arab world" who lives "in constant fear of being outed," he added: "The social ostracization which one hears about [in Qatar] is one thing, but it's another thing to live in fear, and to be pressurized by state institutions. That's dramatic."

DFB adjusts own statutes to boost inclusivity

The DFB itself on Thursday announced a change to its own statutes to enable players to officially register their gender as nonbinary, or to not state a gender at all, rather than being restricted to simply male or female, as was previously the case.

"It also applies to transgender players who can now switch at a self-determined time or remain initially in the team in which they'd been playing previously," the DFB said.

"As long as the sporting activity does not affect the health of the person while they are taking medication, the person can take part in the game, which is why the new regulation excludes doping relevance," it added.

"Everyone should be able to take part in football," read a statement. "The transmission through football of values such as diversity and the battle against discrimination, including gender discrimination, is specifically anchored in the DFB's constitution."

Thomas Hitzlsperger, former VfB Stuttgart, Aston Villa and Germany midfielder and current DFB diversity ambassador, is quoted as saying: "Football stands for diversity and so does the DFB. With the clarification of our statutes, we're further ensuring that players of all gender identities have access to the game."

Edited by: Matt Ford