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Leon Goretzka: Qatar homophobia 'from different millennium'

Kyle McKinnon | Kalika Mehta
November 10, 2022

Bayern Munich midfielder Leon Goretzka has criticized homophobic comments made by Qatar's World Cup ambassador. Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic also spoke out, despite the club's sponsorship links to Qatar.

Deutschland Leon Goretzka Bank
Image: Frank Hoermann/SVEN SIMON/IMAGO

Qatari official's LGBTQ remarks spark outrage

Germany and Bayern Munich midfielder Leon Goretzka has criticized homophobic comments by Qatar's World Cup ambassador, saying they were "oppressive" and "from a different millennium."

Khalid Salman, a former Qatar international, said in a documentary broadcast on German public broadcaster ZDF on Tuesday that he has a problem with children seeing gay men and women because they could learn something they should not, calling homosexuality "damage in the mind" and "spiritual harm."

Goretzka, speaking after Bayern's 6-1 Bundesliga victory over Werder Bremen on Tuesday evening, said: "That is not what we want to stand for and what we exemplify. It is absolutely unacceptable to make such a statement."

The 27-year-old has often stood out as one of the more outspoken and socially aware players in the Bundesliga, launching the "We Kick Corona" campaign with teammate Joshua Kimmich during the pandemic, for instance.

Speaking in the same ZDF documentary, Goretzka said he would have "preferred to compete in a World Cup at the height of my career in a different country. The fact that the human rights situation in a country wasn't part of the bidding criteria was a big mistake, and it makes us angry."

Bayern's director of sport Hasan Salihamidzic also expressed his displeasure with Salman's comments, but he refused to be drawn into a debate around the club's long-term sponsorship links with Qatar Airways.

"It is a statement from an individual," Salihamidzic said. "It is clear that we have to talk about it. But first of all, it is an individual, and it is unacceptable."

Bayern's hardcore supporters, who have long been critical of the club's business dealings with Qatar, also held up banners protesting again Salman's comments during Tuesday's victory.

Qatar World Cup ambassador: homosexuality is 'haram'

Salman's comments came just days after Qatar's foreign minister had insisted that all people would be welcome to attend the World Cup in his country, including members of the LGBTQ+ community.

But the official World Cup ambassador’s labelling of homosexuality as 'haram' – meaning a sin in the Muslim-majority emirate – struck a markedly different tone.

"I'm not a strict Muslim," he said. "But why is it haram? It's spiritual harm."

Excerpts from the documentary by German sports journalist and TV presenter Jochen Breyer, titled "Geheimsache Katar" or "Secret Affairs Qatar," were pre-released by ZDF on its Monday news bulletin.

In the release footage, the media officer of the Qatar World Cup organizing committee, who accompanied the ZDF team during its video recording, ended an interview just after Salman referred to homosexuality as "damage in the mind."

In another excerpt, Salman said: "During the World Cup, a lot of things will come into the country. Let's talk about gays, for example. The most important thing is that everyone will accept that they come here. But they will have to accept our rules."


FIFA World Cup replica in front of skyscrapers in Qatar
Qatar's foreign minister had insisted that the LGBTQ+ community would be welcome to attend the World Cup in his country.Image: Ulmer/IMAGO


Diplomatic dispute

Homosexual acts in public are forbidden in Qatarand can be punished by up to seven years in prison. The captains of several European countries competing in the World Cup, including Germany, France and England, plan to wear armbands in rainbow colors during their matches as part of an anti-discrimination campaign.

Qatar has also come under criticism for its human rights record and its treatment of foreign workers. Fans in stadiums across Germany waved banners over the weekend calling for a boycott of the event, including television viewing. 

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser has said she will attend the World Cup after being given a "guarantee of safety" for LGBTQ fans by Qatar's prime minister. Faeser had previously said Qatar's hosting of the World Cup was "very tricky" from Berlin's perspective, prompting Doha to summon the German ambassador amid accusations of "double standards" and "racism."

FIFA, which awards the World Cup tournament to different countries every four years, has stressed  that all fans are welcome at the World Cup in Qatar, as has the Qatar organzing committee. The Emir of the Gulf state, Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, has also said recently that respect for "our culture" is expected.

Edited by Matt Ford