Greg Clarke says the Football Association is committed to building relationships with foreign FAs such as Qatar in order to promote LGBT inclusion.
FA chairman Clarke also insists the governing body has as yet made no decision on possible future World Cup bidding, and that any talk of him making a personal ‘charm offensive’ abroad to gain support for such a bid is “misleading”.
Clarke’s comments came in an address made to guests at a Wembley Stadium event on Wednesday evening to mark LGBT History Month. In the speech, he also spoke of the “damaging effect” of homophobia within football.
Last week, Clarke was in the Middle East to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Qatari FA, a move that drew a statement expressing ‘shock’ from Pride in Football, the UK’s alliance of LGBT football fan groups.
Homosexuality is criminalised in Qatar, which will host the World Cup in 2022. There has also been significant international criticism surrounding workers’ rights in the Gulf state.
Clarke, who met with Pride in Football representatives before Wednesday’s event, told the audience: “Since I became chairman 18 months ago, I have spent a lot of time travelling and building relationships in the game. The FA has previously been described as aloof and standoffish by other footballing nations.
“My job has been to build understanding by meeting other FAs and learn from them and in return, offer to help where we can. This has been mischaracterised as a charm offensive to win the right to host a future men’s senior World Cup tournament. This is misleading.
“We may or may not bid for such a tournament and I assure you no decision on this has been made by the FA Board. We are, however, bidding for the Women’s Euros in 2021 as part of our plans to grow the women’s game.
“The real objective is to build relationships across the game and play our part in promoting internationally integrity, inclusion and transparency – the great social values football can bring.”
Joe White from Pride in Football spoke to Sky Sports News last week about the LGBT fans group's 'shock' at Clarke and the FA signing a memorandum with Qatar
Clarke acknowledges that raising issues around human rights abuses and homophobia with the Qatari FA is complicated, but he is hopeful of achieving positive outcomes, particularly for fans hoping to travel there in four years’ time.
“We are building relationships with the Qataris and my aspiration is to ensure that fans attending the 2022 World Cup feel safe and welcome irrespective of gender, ethnicity, faith or sexual orientation,” added Clarke.
“We all know the challenges and the difficulties involved. However, we made the choice that engagement offered more hope for progress than hostility from a distance.
“I think there is a chance we may be able to find accommodations that make 2022 an inclusive event for fans with a real social legacy. We are working with other progressive elements in international football to achieve this. I can’t promise we will succeed, but I think our chances are better than if we disengage and broadcast hostility.”
Those attending Wednesday’s event included representatives from Gay Gooners and Proud Lilywhites, the LGBT fan groups of Arsenal and Tottenham, and other supporters from club groups within the Pride in Football alliance.
Players from Stonewall FC, the UK’s oldest openly gay football club, and Charlton Invicta, the first LGBT-inclusive team to be affiliated to a professional club, were also among the invited guests, as well as staff from the charity Stonewall, whose Rainbow Laces campaign encourages LGBT inclusion in sport.
Clarke also referenced the FA’s own inclusion initiative ‘For All’, which was launched a year ago.
“‘For All’ is an empty slogan unless the game is played, managed and administered by people of all ethnicities, faiths, ages, genders, gender alignments or sexual orientation. My fundamental belief is the game is for everyone,” said the FA chairman.
“I am particularly proud of the work done by a number of organisations on wider inclusion of LGBT people and tackling homophobia, transphobia and bi-phobia.
“We will continue to work with campaign groups, support County FAs, sanction offenders and educate those who fall foul of our rules and regulations.
“Homophobia has a damaging effect to our game.”