I am a football fan who has always closely followed the World Cup. I am often glued to the TV, forgoing any social (and sometimes) work-related obligations to watch as many games as possible. I rate my teams from one to five and watch as each progresses or fails to progress to the next stage. Whatever other teams I support, the African teams that make it are my favorites. Hearing the name Luis Suarez, for example, leads me to seize in regret for his handball that potentially prevented Ghana from going into the quarterfinals in 2010.
I pay attention to the World Cup, and it is something that I look forward to every four years. This year has been made special with the historic progression of an African team to the quarterfinals. I watched the Morocco game with a young family member, and we jumped in joy as we watched them play with heart, pride, and dedication. I felt the elation in Casablanca and Marrakech as if it were in Addis Ababa. They made all of us Africans proud because I view their success as one that belongs to all of us Africans.
This year, however, unlike previous years, I have not been able to lose myself in the World Cup. I am carrying a sense of guilt and disappointment even as I watch the games. As a queer woman in Ethiopia, watching the World Cup in Qatar is a constant reminder of state sanctioned homophobia and transphobia. Qatar has not been shy about openly expressing its distaste for all things queer. That by itself is to be expected since being gay is illegal in Qatar and is punishable by a prison sentence or even death. Trans women can be arrested for the crime of “impersonating a woman” and can be forced to detransition. This can involve forced surgery to remove breasts, and being sent to “behavioral health centers” where conversion therapy is imposed. The fact that what the law says for “female homosexuality” is not easily found is also indicative of the sexism in the country.
Given these facts, I did not expect Qatar to become queer friendly overnight. I, however, expected Western nations and institutions to stand up to Qatar. It was odd to see them bend backwards to accommodate Qatar’s homophobia and transphobia. A good example of this is FIFA’s banning of the LGBTQ rainbow OneLove armband that captains of some European teams wanted to wear to show their support. FIFA imposed a yellow card that would be issued to anyone who wore the armbands. The disappointment was exacerbated when FIFA president Gianni Infantino advised all of us to concentrate on the football field, as if human rights were a trivial issue. I expected more from FIFA and the world.
The treatment of queer people and the abuse migrant workers face in Qatar, along with the process by which the World Cup was given to Qatar, made enjoying this World Cup difficult.
I wanted to celebrate Morocco’s victory. It is a victory for Africa. But yet, I can’t focus on just the pitch. And the World Cup has meant a bit less this year because of it.