FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Inter Miami CF, the new South Florida soccer team owned in part by David Beckham, has reportedly reached a $234 million sponsorship deal with the state-owned airline of Qatar. The deal could have the uniforms and a new Miami stadium emblazoned with the name of an Arab state where homosexuality can bring a seven-year prison sentence or even death if the offender is Muslim.
While a deal with state-owned Qatar Airways has not been officially announced, it is already drawing criticism.
“I find it problematic,” said Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Steve Glassman. “Let’s be honest. South Florida is home to a significant Jewish population and a very significant LGBT population. So when you bring in a country like Qatar, if you do your research, you find that Qatar is very hostile to those two communities.”
Glassman brought up his qualms about Qatar Airways sponsoring the team in Tuesday’s city commission conference meeting. Although Inter Miami’s permanent home will be in Miami, the team will play at least its first two seasons at the site of old Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, which will eventually serve as the team’s training facility and the site of a youth soccer camp.
Glassman said he was unsure whether the city commission would be able to affect the sponsorship deal, but that he wanted “an adult conversation with Inter Miami.”
“With all the options out there in the world, we’re settling on Qatar as sponsors? I’m just uncomfortable with the identification of that nation as a sponsor of this team,” Glassman said. “It puts a damper on what would otherwise be a great celebration for the city.”
An Inter Miami team spokesperson said, “We are in the middle of final conversations with several potential partners and will make an announcement in the near future.”
Unlike most Arab nations, Qatar does allow visits from Israel under most circumstances, but an expected influx of Israelis for the 2022 World Cup set for Qatar, and the absence of Israel from a long list of countries from which visas would be welcome, raised concerns that people from the Jewish state would be denied entry.
Hassan al-Thawadi, secretary-general of the Supreme Committee for the 2022 Qatar World Cup, told ESPN in late December that “Everyone is welcome. We do not mix sport and politics, but we would hope that Palestinians are able to make it too.”
Al-Thawadi also discouraged LGBT visitors from kissing in public, saying his nation disapproves of public displays of affection.
Although the nation is prepared to accept Israelis for the World Cup, the two nations have severed diplomatic ties and the state-controlled Qatari media is rife with examples of anti-Semitism, according to the Anti-Defamation League. In a Dec. 4 press release calling on the U.S. embassy in Doha to denounce a government-sponsored book fair in the capital city, the ADL noted that among the books at the fair were titles such as “Lies Spread by the Jews” and “The Myth of the Nazi Gas Chambers.”
Qatari government officials removed the books from the fair after the U.S. ambassador protested.
Inter Miami will play its first match March 1 and its first home match March 14.
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