Watford, who play in the Championship of the English Football League and whose honorary life president is gay singer-songwriter Sir Elton John, have withdrawn from a scheduled friendly match against the Qatar national team following protests from fan groups representing the club’s women and LGBT+ supporters.
The match was originally due to take place during Watford’s summer training camp in Austria but, following its announcement, Women of Watford and Proud Hornets expressed their disappointment, issuing a joint statement which said, “We urge our team to display its support for all human rights, the LGBT+ community and women’s rights at the game and will discuss this directly with the club.”
Following discussions, Watford today confirmed that the game would no longer be going ahead, saying “it became abundantly clear this was a game not to play; as such, the schedule was revised.”
Watford’s withdrawal from the friendly match comes amid widespread concerns about human rights abuses in Qatar prior to the country holding the FIFA World Cup this autumn. Homosexuality remains illegal and LGBT fans who do decide to attend the tournament have been urged to desist from public displays of affection. Many gay and lesbian fans of England and Wales, both of whom have qualified, have made the decision not to travel.
Illegal and corrupt
The awarding of the tournament to Qatar is now widely acknowledged as being the result of a corrupt and illegal process. Many FIFA executives have since resigned while former FIFA boss Sepp Blatter and his UEFA counterpart Michel Platini are soon to go on trial on corruption charges. Qatar is far too hot for a summer football tournament, which is the reason for its postponement until later in the year, and while many Qataris are keen fans of the English Premier League and Spain’s La Liga, the country has very little footballing infrastructure or history to justify its being awarded a World Cup.
Since being awarded hosting duties, the country has been mired in controversy over the treatment of migrant workers, brought in to build stadiums and other facilities. Conditions are said to be akin to slave labour, with passports taken away and workers not allowed to leave and return home. Around 5,000 workers have died during the construction process.
Former England captain David Beckham has also been drawn into controversy over an alleged £150 million ten-year deal to represent Qatar as a sporting ambassador. The ex-Manchester United and Real Madrid star has been accused of enabling “sports washing” where oppressive regimes embrace international sport to enhance their global image.