Team GB’s only gay athlete ready to risk prison to defend LGBT rights in Qatar

Exclusive: Same sex marriage is not recognised in Qatar, the country which will host the World Championships next year

Barney Cullum
Sunday 22 July 2018 13:14 BST
Bosworth is ready to stand up for what he believes in in Qatar
Bosworth is ready to stand up for what he believes in in Qatar (Getty Images)

Team GB’s only gay athlete will risk prison at Qatar’s World Championships next year after pledging to defend LGBT rights during the global showpiece.

Tom Bosworth is one of Britain’s leading gold medal prospects for the Doha event after collecting a silver medal in the 20km race walk at the Commonwealth Games earlier this year.

The 28-year-old collected the second world record of his career at the London Stadium on Saturday and is at his peak.

However Bosworth, who came out as Britain’s first gay athlete in 2015, is angry that a sport that prides itself on diversity has granted the hosting rights for its flagship event to a country that continues to criminalise homosexuality.

Bosworth will be one of Team GB's leading medal hopes in Qatar (Getty Images)

“There’s many questions as to why this championship’s ended up where it has,” the Leeds-based athlete told The Independent. “I think the athletes and perhaps even the sport has been forgotten.”

“Obviously Qatar wants to make a statement. They’ve got the football world cup (in 2022) as well. If it’s about money, there’s other options [that could have been taken].”

Bosworth proposed to his boyfriend on a Brazilian beach during the Rio Olympics but same sex marriage is not recognised in Qatar. Men who have sex with other men face up to three years in prison.

“I’ve told my fiancée, ‘don’t even consider coming… I don’t want you or my family to come,’” adds the man who captained Team England at the Commonwealth Games in Australia earlier this year.

Bosworth has told his fiancée not to travel (PA)

The plan ensures the safety of his partner, but Bosworth will risk an even harsher punishment by defending LGBT rights while in Doha. Criticising the Gulf State’s Emir, whose family dynasty the new athletics stadium is named after, carries a five year jail sentence.

It emerged last week that locally printed version of international newspapers are having articles defending LGBT rights removed for the first time, as the country closes ranks in anticipation of increasing scrutiny of its laws.

“I will not be afraid to speak out,” Bosworth said after his latest victory. “I’m going there to do a job and compete but I want to do that safely, happily and I want those opportunities for everybody.”

Bosworth said he held out hope that the host country may yet surprise him. Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is visiting London on Monday and Amnesty International have called on Prime Minister Theresa May to advocate for LGBT people in Qatar in their discussions.

“I’m not saying it’s not going to be great. Look how great the football world cup was in Russia and plenty of people said there’s going to be problems and that it’s dangerous. There’s no doubt sport brings people together and hopefully that will be the same next year.”

Bosworth broke a world record in London on Saturday (Getty Images)

Qatar’s leading athletes insist a compelling spectacle is in store. The country has little athletics heritage in terms of winning medals but the state wants to display a positive, transformative image, on and off the track.

“I’m going to win a gold medal for the Emir because he loves athletics so much and we love him too,” Abdalelah Haroun said after winning the 400m.

Qatar’s Aspire Academy ‘recruited’ Haroun from his native Sudan to boost their medal prospects before the IAAF changed its rules on switching nationalities recently. They also persuaded Abderrahman Samba, the hottest athlete on the Diamond Leage circuit this year, to switch allegiance from neighbours Saudi Arabia. “My family are all still in Saudi,” the hurdler admits.

Qatar’s tactics to ‘rebrand’ their nation may backfire. Samba’s rival for gold next summer, Karsten Warholm, holds nothing against his opponents and praises their dedication to their craft, but wonders if any glory he secures may feel a little hollow. “I just hope they have the same heart for their country as I have. I hope success is something you work for and not something you buy. Qatar don’t get to buy me, anyway.”

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