Gary Lineker claims he knows of two gay Premier League footballers and believes the upcoming would represent the perfect opportunity to come out.
Qatar is preparing to host the tournament for the first time but the event has been mired in controversy given the number of human rights issues that have come to light in the build-up.
Homosexuality, for example, remains outlawed and carries a jail sentence of anything up to seven years, but Lineker hopes football’s showpiece competition is marked by an elite level footballer coming out.
He told the ‘It would be great if one or two of them came out during the World Cup. It would be amazing.
‘I know for a fact that some have been very close and contemplated it. There’s a couple I know, but obviously it’s not for me to say who they are.
Asked why the players had opted against revealing their sexuality, Linker added: ‘Fear. Fear of the unknown, I imagine. Perhaps they are worried about what their teammates might think, although they probably already know.
‘I mean, it seems insane that it should even be a thing.
‘People say, ‘Yeah, but the crowds.” And I say, ‘Well the crowds chant anyway’. Any kind of abuse you take is a compliment from the opposing fans.’
Gay football fans, meanwhile, have been told they should feel safe to show each other affection once the competition gets underway, its chief organiser has insisted.
Nasser Al Khater insists no one will be discriminated against at the tournament, starting on November 20.
When asked if gay fans could hold hands, he said ‘yes’. Pressed on whether rainbow flags – the symbol of the + community – will be allowed at matches, he told Sky News: ‘We’ve always said everybody is welcome.
‘All we ask is for people to be respectful of the culture. As long as you don’t do anything that harms other people, you have nothing to worry about.’
Sacha Deshmukh, of Amnesty International UK, welcomed his comments but said: ‘The fact Qatari authorities are issuing “reassurances” like this weeks before kick-off shows how much fear and trepidation there still is on this issue.’
England skipper Harry Kane and Wales counterpart Gareth Bale both intend to wear One Love armbands during games to show support for LGBT+ rights in Qatar.
Mr Al Khater said it would be up to football governing body Fifa to decide if that was appropriate. But he added: ‘This is a sporting tournament that people want to come and enjoy. Turning it into a platform of political statements, I don’t think is right.’ He also suggested anger at the Gulf nation hosting the tournament could be racist.
Responding to critics, including England boss Gareth Southgate, who have called on migrant workers to be compensated over abuses and deaths while constructing stadiums, he said: ‘A lot of people that speak about this issue are not experts.
‘They need to educate themselves more about what’s happening on the ground in Qatar.’
The Muslim nation will relax alcohol laws during the tournament and set aside areas for drunk fans to sober up. ‘It’s a place to make sure they keep themselves safe,’ Mr Al Khater said.
Meanwhile, Qatar emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, held talks with Vladimir Putin. He thanked the Russian leader for his ‘great support to Qatar’ and helping organise the World Cup, adding: ‘I am very happy to see you, mister president.’
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