Thu, Dec 16, 2010 - Page 20 News List

Gay rights activists furious over FIFA president’s ‘joke’

AFP, LONDON

Gay rights activists have reacted furiously after FIFA president Sepp Blatter joked that gay soccer fans should “refrain” from sex during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.

Asked about concerns over the treatment of gay fans at the tournament, Blatter responded: “I would say that they should refrain from any sexual activities.”

The comments, made on Monday during a press conference in South Africa alongside South African President Jacob Zuma, are the latest slip-up from the gaffe-prone soccer chief and provoked an immediate and fierce backlash.

Former NBA basketball star John Amaechi — who revealed he was gay in 2007 — led the attack, accusing the FIFA president of “epic, archaic, Neanderthal ignorance.”

“With little more than an -afterthought, FIFA has endorsed the marginalization of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people around the world,” he wrote on his blog. “Anything less than a full reversal of his position is unacceptable.”

The Gay Football Supporters’ Network, already infuriated by the decision earlier this month to award the 2022 tournament to the Middle Eastern state, called on Blatter to retract his comments immediately or resign.

“Many LGBT people live in countries where they would face execution or imprisonment if discovered, these people deserve our help, our respect and our support,” chair of the group, Chris Basiurski, said in a statement. “They, like the rest of us, do not deserve to be laughed at. Mr Blatter should retract his remarks and apologize immediately. Otherwise, he should reconsider his position and resign.”

Blatter’s comments provoked -awkward laughter at the Johannesburg press conference and he attempted to move on quickly, saying that “in football we have no boundaries.”

“We open everything to everybody and I think there shall not be any discrimination to any human beings,” Blatter said.

FIFA would not make any further comment, saying Blatter had provided all the clarification that was necessary at the press conference, the BBC reported.

Blatter’s remarks are just the latest example of the 74-year-old soccer chief putting his foot in his mouth.

He told women players in 2004 that the best way to make their sport more popular would be to wear “tighter shorts.” Earlier this year, he suggested that John Terry’s alleged affair, which led to him being stripped of the England captaincy, would have been applauded in Latin countries.

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