The World Cup kicks off on Sunday in Qatar amid continued condemnation of the nation’s LGBT record, the deaths of migrant workers erecting infrastructure for the games, and other human rights concerns.
Aggravating an already sensitive topic, Khalid Salman, a former Qatari footballer and ambassador of this year’s World Cup, last week described homosexuality as haram (“forbidden”) and “damage in the mind.” The interview was immediately cut short by a press officer for the event. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, and LGBT people have been arbitrarily arrested or mistreated by authorities as recently as September, according to Human Rights Watch.
Qatar’s human rights record has led to many expected attendees and celebrities boycotting the month-long soccer competition.
On Sunday, English artist Dua Lipa dismissed speculation that she was scheduled to perform at the sporting event, citing Qatar’s human rights record.
“I will not be performing and nor have I ever been involved in any negotiation to perform. I will be cheering England on from afar and I look forward to visiting Qatar when it has fulfilled all the human rights pledges it made when it won the right to host the World Cup,” she posted via an Instagram story. Lipa is known for having a large fan base among LGBTQ+ communities and is vocal about her ongoing allyship toward the community.
Another British musician, Rod Stewart, told The Sunday Times he was offered a million dollar check 15 months ago to perform in Qatar but turned it down for ethical reasons. “It’s not right to go,” he said.
Musicians who are confirmed for the FIFA Fan Festival over the next month are Sean Paul and Clean Bandit, while Shakira and The Black Eyed Peas are rumored to perform. K-pop star Jungkook is also confirmed to play in the opening ceremony at the Al Bayt Stadium in Doha alongside former Take That member Robbie Williams.
In October, Melanie C—also known as Sporty Spice in the band Spice Girls—said she was “very uncomfortable” showing support for Qatar considering the nation’s treatment of gay people.
The singer also spoke about former England soccer player David Beckham’s role as an ambassador for the tournament and the $10 million check he secured for his involvement. “It’s difficult… David is a friend of mine, and everybody has to make their own choices.” She added that it’s “tricky” for sport to shift culture when so much money is involved. Beckham is married to Melanie C’s former bandmate, Victoria Beckham.
The former England player’s decision to accept the ambassadorship has been criticized by human rights groups and celebrities alike; British comedian Joe Lycett, who is openly gay, has challenged Beckham to withdraw from his deal with Qatar in a viral message via a website with the URL “benderslikebeckham.com.”
In a video on the website, Lycett says he will donate £10,000 ($11,896) of his own money to charity if the soccer player, who he heralded as a “gay icon,” abandons his role in the tournament.
Speaking of Beckham’s involvement in the gay community, the comedian said: “You’re the first premiership footballer to do shoots with gay magazines like Attitude, to speak openly about your gay fans, and you married a Spice Girl, which is the gayest thing a human being can do.”
In March, it was also reported that Prince William—who is president of England’s soccer governing body, The Football Association—would not attend the tournament. A “busy winter schedule” has been cited and ITV News reported in October that his absence “should not be ruled out entirely” if England were to “progress to the later stages of the competition.” England is among the favorites to win the tournament.
The newly appointed Prince of Wales did visit the “Three Lions,” as England’s soccer squad is known, on Monday at the National Football Centre in the West Midlands region of England and presented team members with their shirt numbers for the tournament ahead.