LONDON – A leading international gay rights group demanded Tuesday that FIFA make an official apology following President Sepp Blatter's comment about homosexual sports fans traveling to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup.
Blatter, head of world football's governing body, said Monday in an apparently lighthearted remark that gay fans "should refrain from any sexual activities" during the tournament in Qatar, where homosexual behavior is illegal.
Juris Lavrikovs, communications director for the European branch of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, said the comments were "very unfortunate and have left people deeply offended."
"I think they should come out with a strong statement and not just wash it away and hide behind it with some wishy-washy comments," Lavrikovs told The Associated Press. "We are talking about a very basic human right that is being violated."
Blatter, speaking in South Africa on Monday at the launch of a post-2010 World Cup legacy project, was asked if he could foresee any cultural problems with the tournament being held in Qatar.
"I'd say they (gay fans) should refrain from any sexual activities," he said, smiling.
Lavrikovs noted the situation "is not a joke."
"This is a matter of life and death to people," Lavrikovs said. "Qatar and more than 70 other countries in the world still criminalize individuals for homosexual relationships, and some countries even punish them by death sentence.
"It's disappointing to see that an organization that is promoting the game, which in its statutes condemns discrimination of any kind, is coming out with comments like this."
Qatar beat Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States in the FIFA vote on Dec. 2.
Since FIFA made what is widely regarded as a surprise decision, concerns have been raised about Qatar's hosting such a major tournament while it has stringent laws that are seen by many to violate basic human rights.
"Sepp Blatter jokes about the risk to gay visitors in 2022, but Qatar's anti-gay policies are no laughing matter," British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said.
Also condemning Blatter was John Amaechi, a former NBA player from Britain who revealed in 2007 that he was gay.
"The statements and the position adopted by Sepp Blatter and FIFA regarding LGBT (Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender) fans who would pay the enormous ticket and travel prices to attend the World Cup in 2022 should have been wholly unacceptable a decade ago," Amaechi said on his website.
"Instead, with little more than an afterthought, FIFA has endorsed the marginalization of LGBT people around the world," he added.
Amaechi also demanded an apology from FIFA and urged other associations to distance themselves from Blatter's comments.
"Anything less than a full reversal of his position is unacceptable," he said.