The British foreign secretary has been criticized on Tuesday after telling LGBTQ football fans going to the World Cup in Qatar to be “respectful” of its laws banning homosexuality, with many calling the statement “tone-deaf” to the rights of gay individuals. 

James Cleverly, the foreign secretary of the United Kingdom, said that Qatar was attempting to create an environment that was “safe” and “secure” for footballs fans around the world, and that those who were attending the 2022 World Cup should be “respectful” of the laws there, according to The Guardian

“One of the things I would say for football fans is, you know, please do be respectful of the host nation. They are trying to ensure that people can be themselves and enjoy the football, and I think with a little bit of flex and compromise at both ends, it can be a safe, secure and exciting World Cup,” he said. 

Many queer and LGBT groups and activists immediately criticized Cleverly’s statements, with some groups criticizing him for what they perceived as attempting to put them “back into the closet” and denying them their human rights, Sky News reported.

“With respect, this is an extremely unhelpful intervention that shows a lack of understanding and context. To insinuate that an acceptable and proportionate safety measure is to 'be less queer' forces us back into the closet and risks mental health crises,” 3LionsPride tweeted. 

“Sport should be open to all. Many fans will feel they can’t attend this tournament to cheer on their team because of Qatar’s record on human rights, workers and LGBT+ rights,” Labour shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said. 

“The government should be challenging FIFA on how they’ve put fans in this position, and ensuring the full safety of all fans attending, not defending discriminatory values.”

Peter Tatchell, an LGBTQ activist who claimed to have been arrested in Qatar while highlighting their repressive policies, hit back on Cleverly and accused him and the British government of “colluding with a homophobic, sexist and racist regime.”

“Unless we all speak out, Qatar will have achieved its goal of sportswashing its appalling reputation during the World Cup. Cleverly has an opportunity to highlight the abuses being carried out by the regime. All fans, not just LGBTs, should boycott the World Cup and use their social media to amplify the shocking human rights abuses by the Qatari state,” he said.

James Cleverly LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 25: Foreign Secretary James Cleverly MP leaves Number 10 in Downing Street as new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak begins cabinet reshuffle on October 25, 2022 in London, England. Rishi Sunak will take office as the UK's 57th Prime Minister today after he was appointed as Conservative leader yesterday. He was the only candidate to garner 100-plus votes from Conservative MPs in the contest for the top job. He said his aim was to unite his party and the country. Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images Leon Neal/Getty Images.