A Qatari World Cup ambassador who called homosexuality “damage in the mind” argued Wednesday his comments were misrepresented but insisted his country’s conservative culture would not change.
Khalid Salman sparked criticism with his comments broadcast on German television on Tuesday, stirring new fears over LGBTQ rights in the host of the international tournament, which kicks off on November 20.
“I regret that what I said was taken out of context, because neither our religion nor our nature is to offend or insult,” the 60-year-old former Qatar international said on Twitter.
“Everyone is welcome in Qatar, but our religion and culture will not change for the championship,” he added.
More than one million people are expected to visit the tiny Gulf country for the World Cup.
Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal, has come under sustained fire in recent years over its record on LGBTQ and women’s rights, as well as its treatment of foreign workers.
Salman said in an interview with Germany’s ZDF network that Qatar will welcome gay visitors but “they have to accept our rules.”
He added homosexuality is “haram” — forbidden in Islam — before the interview was abruptly broken off by a World Cup official.
Germany’s interior minister, Nancy Faeser — who is also the sports minister, and whose own criticism of Qatar before a visit last week caused a diplomatic storm — called Salman’s comments “awful”.
German Football Association (DFB) president Bernd Neuendorf and local LGBTQ organisation and activists have condemned the remarks, as have the United States and international rights groups.
Qatar has repeatedly stated that LGBTQ fans will be “welcome” at the World Cup but must respect the local culture.
Human Rights Watch has accused Qatar of detaining and abusing LGBTQ people in the run-up to the World Cup, allegations furiously denied by the government.
FIFA has insisted that rainbow flags will be allowed in and around World Cup stadiums.
Captains from a number of European countries, including England, France and Germany, have said they will wear armbands in rainbow colours with the message “One Love” during the tournament in an anti-discrimination campaign.