BBC apologises for asking Morocco captain how many of the team are lesbians

The ‘inappropriate’ question at a press conference was slammed on social media

Luke Baker
Tuesday 25 July 2023 11:31 BST
Watch Moroccan footballer's reaction after reporter asks if any World Cup players are gay

The BBC has apologised after one of its reporters asked the Morocco captain whether any of the squad at the ongoing Women’s World Cup are lesbians.

Morocco, a Muslim-majority country, are the first Arab nation to qualify for the World Cup and critics claim the question posed to Ghizlane Chebbak in a pre-match press conference potentially endangered the safety of the squad.

Same-sex sexual activity between men or women is criminalised in the North African country, with a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment and a fine.

This prompted a reporter from the BBC World Service to ask Chebbak ahead of her side’s opening match against Germany: “In Morocco, it is illegal to have a gay relationship. Do you have any gay players in your squad and what’s life like for them in Morocco?”

A Fifa official moderating the press conference intervened, saying: “Sorry this is a very political question so we will just stick to questions relating to football.”

But the journalist pressed on, insisting: “It is not political, it is about people. Please allow her to answer.” At which point, Chebbak smiled and shook her head.

The BBC has since apologised for the incident, with a BBC spokesperson telling CNN: “We recognise that the question was inappropriate. We had no intention to cause any harm or distress.”

Ghizlane Chebbak was being questioned at a pre-match press conference (AFP via Getty Images)

Media in attendance were visibly shocked at the interaction and some took to social media to condemn the line of questioning.

Steph Yang, a reporter for The Athletic, tweeted: “From a harm-reduction perspective, this is not an appropriate question for a player and would have endangered the players themselves.

“We are obviously going to talk about the intersection of politics and sports at this World Cup, and it’s vital to do so. But we should take care that our questions don’t cause further harm to those impacted by those very politics.”

Meanwhile, Shireen Ahmed, a journalist for Canadian outlet CBC, tweeted: “The reporter was completely out of line. Harm reduction matters and posing the question to the captain or coach was unnecessary. The question was waved off by a Fifa media officer moderating but it shouldn’t have been asked.

“This isn’t an issue of journalistic freedom. You can inquire about social laws in different places without endangering people. Journalists have an obligation to be fair, accurate and practice with care. If reporting harms someone, it is not only unethical but dangerous.”

Morocco lost 6-0 to Germany in their opening match (REUTERS)

Morocco are not only the first Arab nation to compete at the Women’s World Cup but if defender Nouhaila Benzina gets game-time in the tournament, she will become the first player to wear the hijab at the global showpiece.

Chebbak said in response to another question: “We are honoured to be the first Arab country to take part in the Women’s World Cup. We feel that we have to shoulder a big responsibility to show a good image, and to show the achievements that the Moroccan football team has made in terms of progress by qualifying for the World Cup.”

The Atlas Lionesses battled hard in their opening fixture but eventually lost 6-0 to Germany, one of the pre-tournament favourites.

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