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Watford cancel Qatar friendly match after LGBTQ+ and women's rights concerns

English second division club calls off game against World Cup hosts after fan groups raise human rights record
Watford players during a match against Burnley at Vicarage Road Stadium on 30 April 2022 (AFP)

Watford have cancelled a friendly match against Qatar’s national team after a backlash from fan groups over human rights concerns.

Last week, the English second division club announced that it was due to face the 2022 World Cup hosts in early July as part of a pre-season training camp in Austria. 

Following the announcement, fan groups Women of Watford and Proud Hornets released a statement expressing "disappointment".

“We urge our team to display its support for all human rights, the LGBT+ community and women's rights at the game and will discuss this directly with the club,” it said. 

On Monday, Watford confirmed in a statement that the practice match would no longer go ahead. 

“The game was never finalised and it became abundantly clear this was a game not to play; as such, the schedule was revised,” a club spokesperson said. 

The two fan groups said that it was “delighted” that the club had listened to their concerns and cancelled the game. 

“I was very disappointed in the club's initial decision to play a match against the national team of an oppressive regime, but I applaud the club for reversing the decision and listening to fans,” Callum Jewell, co-founder of Proud Hornets, told MEE. 

He said that Qatar were not doing enough to improve the rights of LGBTQ+ people and women, and added that had the match gone ahead, he and other fans in the stadium would have made their presence known over the rights concerns. 

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Same-sex acts between consenting adults in private are a criminal offence in Qatar punishable by up to seven years in prison. 

Asked about LGBTQ+ fans at the World Cup, Fatma Al-Nuaimi, communications director for Qatar's World Cup Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, told MEE in December: “Everybody is welcome regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation.”

“What we’re asking from people and all of these communities is to respect the culture and the tradition of the country itself, and to accept us as they’re asking for us to accept them.”

Earlier this year, Qatari women told MEE that they felt unsafe under the exploitative male guardianship system, following the high-profile three-month disappearance of 23-year-old activist Noof al-Maadeed.