LONDON — A leading international gay rights group demanded an official apology from FIFA on Tuesday following Sepp Blatter's comment about homosexual fans traveling to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup.
The president of the world soccer governing body said Monday that gay fans "should refrain from any sexual activities" during the World Cup in Qatar, where homosexual behavior is illegal.
Juris Lavrikovs, communications director for the European branch of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, said the comments were "very unfortunate and have left people deeply offended."
"I think they should come out with a strong statement and not just wash it away," Lavrikovs told The Associated Press. "We are talking about a very basic human right that is being violated."
Blatter spoke in South Africa on Monday at the launch of a post-2010 World Cup legacy project. He was asked if he could foresee any cultural problems with the tournament being held in Qatar.
"I'd say they (gay fans) should refrain from any sexual activities," he said, smiling.
"This is not a joke, this is a matter of life and death to people," Lavrikovs said. "Qatar and more than 70 other countries in the world still criminalize individuals for homosexual relationships, and some countries even punish them by death sentence.
"It's disappointing to see that an organization that is promoting the game, which in its statutes condemns discrimination of any kind, is coming out with comments like this."
Qatar beat the United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea in the FIFA vote on Dec. 2 to host the 2022 World Cup.
Concerns have been raised that a country hosting a major tournament has stringent laws that are seen by many to violate basic human rights.
"Sepp Blatter jokes about the risk to gay visitors in 2022, but Qatar's anti-gay policies are no laughing matter," British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said.
John Amaechi also condemned Blatter's remarks. The former NBA player from Britain who revealed he was gay in 2007 said on his website that "FIFA has endorsed the marginalization of LGBT people around the world."
Amaechi also demanded an apology from FIFA and urged other associations to distance themselves from Blatter's comments.
"Anything less than a full reversal of his position is unacceptable," he said.
Herman Ouseley, chairman of Kick It Out, a British campaign group for equality and inclusion in soccer, said he expected better from someone in Blatter's position.
"It was all frivolity and laughter but it's a serious business – people's existence he has ridiculed," Ouseley told the AP at the launch of his group's annual review at the British Parliament.
"We can't have that from the top of the world governing body – you've got to show leadership because you've got to influence the standards of behavior required and then you've got to enforce it when there's a failure."
AP Sports Writer Rob Harris contributed to this report.