The Foreign Secretary has been criticised for saying LGBT football fans should be “respectful” during the World Cup.
James Cleverly said visitors to host country Qatar should show “a little bit of flex and compromise” and to “respect the culture of your host nation”.
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and can be punished by imprisonment or even death under the country’s criminal code.
The Tory politician’s comments were branded “abhorrent” and “shockingly tone deaf” by opposition parties, who said the government should be challenging football authorities over the selection of the country to host the tournament.
“I have spoken to the Qatari authorities in the past about gay football fans going to watch the World Cup and how they will treat our fans and international fans,” Mr Clevely told LBC radio
“They want to make sure that football fans are safe, secure and enjoy themselves, and they know that that means they are going to have to make some compromises in terms of what is an Islamic country with a very different set of cultural norms to our own.
“One of the things I would say for football fans is, you know, please do be respectful of the host nation.
“They are trying to ensure that people can be themselves and enjoy the football, and I think with a little bit of flex and compromise at both ends, it can be a safe, secure and exciting World Cup.”
Downing Street distanced itself from the comments, however. A spokesperson said fans should not have to “compromise who they are”, adding: “Qatar’s policies are not those of the UK Government and not ones we would endorse.”
Kirsten Oswald, the Scottish National Party’s deputy Westminster leader, said: “The Foreign Secretary seems in essence to be advising people travelling to the World Cup in Qatar to show some respect and not be gay. This is abhorrent,” she said.
Labour’s shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell added: “This is shockingly tone deaf from James Cleverly. Sport should be open to all. Many fans will feel they can’t attend this tournament to cheer on their team because of Qatar’s record on human, workers, and LGBT+ rights.
“The government should be challenging FIFA on how they’ve put fans in this position, and ensuring the full safety of all fans attending, not defending discriminatory values.”
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said the World Cup was being used to “sportswash” Qater’s “atrocious human rights records”.
She added: “Any UK officials who attend should be using their position to highlight human rights abuses, not endorsing the regime.”
It comes after veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell said he was arrested after staging an LGBT protest in the country to highlight its human rights abuses in the run-up to the sporting event.
In a video released on Tuesday, Mr Tatchell said he was “subjected to interrogation” while detained for 49 minutes after carrying out the demonstration outside the national museum in Doha.
The 70-year-old activist said his aim was to draw attention to the treatment of the LGBT+ community, women and migrant workers in the Gulf state, where homosexuality is illegal. He was later released by Qatari police and flew to Sydney, Australia.
Qatar’s government communications office said “no arrests were made” and that “rumours on social media that a representative from the Peter Tatchell Foundation has been arrested in Qatar are completely false and without merit”.