Qatar-based broadcaster BeIN Media Group found itself embroiled in controversy after one of its best-known commentators criticized the Premier League’s Rainbow Laces campaign in support of the LGBT community, potentially lighting a tinderbox in the run-up to next year’s World Cup.
With human rights groups already critical of staging the World Cup in Qatar, Mohamed Aboutrika, a retired Egyptian soccer star who appears regularly on BeIN, described homosexuality as an affront to the Muslim religion. His remarks came in response to the station’s airing of games last week featuring players wearing rainbow-colored laces in support of the gay community. BeIN broadcasts the league’s games in the Middle East and North Africa and has covered the campaign extensively.
Aboutrika was reprimanded for his comments by BeIN, a source familiar with the situation said. The network also issued a statement defending its programming.
“As a global media group we represent, champion and support people, causes and interests of every single background, language and cultural heritage across 43 hugely diverse countries, as we show every day,” BeIN said.
Aboutrika said the Premier League’s Muslim players shouldn’t participate in the campaign, which encourages the athletes to wear rainbow-colored laces, armbands and pins, and is designed to promote “equality and diversity,” according to the league’s website.
The U.K.-based league is the richest in the world and features many high-profile Muslim players.
“We wholeheartedly disagree with the pundit’s views,” the league said in a statement. “The Premier League and its clubs are committed to supporting LGBTQ+ inclusion and making clear football is for everyone.”
Aboutrika’s criticism of the campaign comes at an awkward time for the world of soccer as it prepares for the World Cup in Qatar in November 2022. It is the first time soccer’s most-watched event will be held in the Middle East.
Aboutrika couldn’t be reached for comment.
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