It was the summer of 2021 and I was talking to a senior Fifa official.
How, I asked, would the LGBTQ+ community be received at the next World Cup in Qatar, a country where homosexuality is illegal?
There was a pause before Joyce Cook – herself a gay woman – answered.
“If you go places, you open up and shine the spotlight,” she said.
“We are very clear that for our hosts, our tournaments must be inclusive. When it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, we still have time before hosting the tournament – and I think we will leave a legacy.”
LGBTQ+ fans and allies arrested and confronted
It is still too early to judge the imprint that this World Cup will leave in history.
But on one point there can be no doubt.
Despite repeated promises from Fifa and the Qatari authorities to ‘Everyone is welcome’those who belonged to – or supported – the LGBTQ+ community did not feel this.
There was the former Wales captain said to take off a hat in the colors of Pride. And the LGBTQ+ ally briefly detained by authorities for attempting to enter a stadium wearing a rainbow T-shirt.
A gay fan who took a grayscale Pride flag at a game was made to throw it in the trash; another was forced to unfurl his Pride banners by guards who approached him on the subway.
A BBC cameraman who wore a Pride watch strap was initially banned from entering a stadium – and was only able to enter after a phone call to the authorities.
LGBTQ+ fans who chose not to travel to Qatar had to listen to Khalid Salman, one of the country’s World Cup ambassadors, describes homosexuality as “damage in the spirit”.
These are some of the many stories of LGBTQ+ fans and allies being arrested or confronted.
Fifa and the Qatari authorities had assured that this would not be the case. But it happened anyway.
Fly a flag – but threaten captains with yellow cards
It is important to say that what happened in Qatar is not the usual experience for many LGBTQ+ football fans, whether in the UK or in a number of other competing countries.
I’ve covered the stories of LGBTQ+ people in sport for almost five years, and one of the most encouraging changes I’ve seen is the way football has worked to make the community feel more welcome.
From Premier League participation to the Rainbow Laces campaign to rise of LGBTQ+ fan groups, the game has made tremendous progress in a relatively short period.
This progress has been warmly welcomed at all levels of football – seen not only as a good thing, but as an essential part of making the sport more inclusive.
Yet at this World Cup, the norms that LGBTQ+ people in football had relied on were debated by some of the most powerful names in the game.
These OneLove armbands that European supporters had grown accustomed to seeing at the League of Nations?
According to Qatar World Cup chief Hassan Al-Thawadi, they were not after all a symbol of diversity and inclusion, but rather “an effort to leave a divisive message” in the Arab world.
The ability of football to “change the world” that Gianni Infantino spoken in May?
This did not extend to players who wanted to draw attention to alleged human rights abuses in Qatar – who were instead pushed by Fifa early November to “focus on football” and not get drawn into ideological or political “battles”.
And this “symbolic and proud moment” underlined by Fifa as he hoisted the pride flag in front of its headquarters in June?
It’s all good – but the captains couldn’t wear their own rainbow to the tournament without risk a reservation.
A right to existence becoming “political” again
And then there was the Infantino press conference.
On the eve of the opening match of the World Cup, the president of Fifa critics accused of Qatar’s human rights record of ‘hypocrisy’ and giving a ‘one-sided moral lesson’ – and claimed he knows how people who face discrimination feel because he was bullied for his freckles as a child .
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and can be punished by fines, imprisonment and even death.
And Infantino’s comments were part of a larger pattern, in which prominent football figures framed the conversation about the treatment of LGBTQ+ people in the host country as a cultural and political difference, rather than human rights. fundamentals.
Never mind that gay Qataris have expressed their desire to live free from harassment, like Aziz, who told BBC News in November: “I would like reforms that say I can be gay and not fear being killed.”
Never mind the country’s LGBTQ+ supporter organization, the Proud Maroons, couldn’t look openly at their national team because, in the band’s own words, fans feared “joining would send them to jail”.
The conversation had changed. LGBTQ+ football fans who thought it was uncontroversial to say no one should be persecuted for their sexuality were now being accused of disrespecting the traditions of the host country.
“At Fifa, we try to respect all opinions and beliefs, without giving moral lessons to the rest of the world,” wrote the world football governing body in early November. “No people, culture or nation is ‘better’ than another.”
Yet senior Fifa official Arsene Wenger, former Arsenal manager, suggested that the teams which attempted to draw attention to LGBTQ+ issues in Qatar had fared less well.
The statement itself was questionable – Aussie rules footballers defying expectations to reach the knockout stages, after broadcast a video condemn human rights violations in the country.
But that was not the point.
At this World Cup, all the norms that LGBTQ+ fans knew were being challenged.
Being authentic in football – supporting people’s right to go to games with whom they like, wear what they want, embrace every part of themselves – was no longer a ‘good thing’ .
It had kind of become one side of a debate, to be weighed against the opinions of those who would rather the LGBTQ+ community not have that right.
Remarkably, by 2022 and on the global stage, the rights of LGBTQ+ people to exist as themselves in football had again become ‘political’.
And now ?
The curtain has fallen on Qatar and the rhythms of football as we know it are beginning to stir.
The Premier League resumes next Monday and fans of England’s top men’s teams will soon be back in the stands, their bodies hunched against the cold, their breath hanging in the air.
Locations will freeze. Points will be lost.
Everything will seem very “normal” to you.
But for many LGBTQ+ people in football, there’s no easy way back.
After a period where so many assumptions about their place in the game have been challenged, too many questions remain.
Will the players be able to wear the colors of pride at the next Women’s World Cup in New Zealand?
Will countries that criminalize homosexuality be allowed to hold future tournaments?
And after some of the comments from football’s top brokers, how are gay people in the game really viewed by those in control?
No community is a monolith – but the overwhelming majority of LGBTQ+ people I spoke to during this tournament told me the same.
They feel angry.
They feel abandoned.
They feel anything but “welcome”.
And that, more than anything, will be the legacy of this World Cup.
Jack Murley is the presenter of the BBC’s LGBT Sport podcast. You can hear new episodes every Wednesday.