The Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, has attempted to laugh off the problems which gay supporters may face at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Blatter, who was speaking yesterday in Johannesburg at the launch of a post-2010 World Cup legacy project, has come in for criticism following the decision to take the competition to the Middle East for the first time.
Apart from the searing temperatures during the summer, current laws mean drinking alcohol in public is forbidden and gay groups fear problems in a country where homosexuality is illegal.
When asked about such issues, Blatter, apparently joking, said: “I would say they should refrain from any sexual activities.”
He continued on a more serious note, saying: “We are definitely living in a world of freedom and I'm sure when the World Cup will be in Qatar in 2022, there will be no problems. You see in the Middle East the opening of this culture, it's another culture because it's another religion, but in football we have no boundaries.
“We open everything to everybody and I think there shall not be any discrimination against any human beings be it on this side or that side, be it left, right or whatever.”
Blatter insisted even if there are problems, there is still plenty of time to sort out any issues. “I think there is too much concern for a competition that will be done only in 12 years,” he added.
“But this gives me the opportunity to say that in Fifa, and this is in the statutes of Fifa, whether it is in politics, whether it is in religion, we don't want racism, and we know what this means, and neither do we want discrimination. What we want is just to open this game to everybody and open it to all cultures and this is what we are doing in 2022.”
Blatter's comments have been heavily criticised by the former basketball player John Amaechi, who revealed that he was gay in 2007 – the first NBA star to do so. “The statements and the position adopted regarding LGBT [Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender] fans who would pay the enormous ticket and travel prices to attend the World Cup in 2022 should have been wholly unacceptable a decade ago,” the US-based Englishman said.
“Instead, with little more than an afterthought Fifa has endorsed the marginalisation of LGBT people around the world. Anything less than a full reversal of his position is unacceptable and if the FA and football and sporting associations around the world fail to acknowledge this insult, they too will be complicit.
“If sport can not serve to change society, even temporarily during the duration of an event like the World Cup that invites the world to participate, then it is little more than grown men chasing a ball and we should treat it as such.”