It was an entirely fair question to ask whether we should be attending a World Cup in a state with discriminatory laws and policies like Qatar’s.

In some ways, I am conscious that I’m lucky in that I wasn’t having to make a decision on whether or not to come to the World Cup in Qatar as a fan. I am here in a work capacity and, to an extent, that was slightly easier to justify although I still arrived with plenty of misgivings.

I’m here working as part of Lleisiau Cymru (Welsh Voices), as an ambassador for football and for Cymru as a whole. That means that I am here to work and so far, it’s been really busy and constructive; events have ranged from British Embassy receptions to meetings with UEFA and other associations, and a fun Q&A with Jess Fishlock, Nathan Blake and Dafydd Iwan for Cymru fans and sponsors. Plenty more is planned including with potential trade, industry and educational partners.

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Having said all that, sadly the whole experience with LGBTQ+ Matters has been as we could have expected, although completely counter to FIFA's assurances that rainbow insignia would definitely be permitted in the stadia.

It was also utterly disgraceful that FIFA cornered our players (Cymru’s and England’s) hours before kick off on Monday regarding the OneLove armband and threatened yellow cards and more for any captain wearing it. I think the ongoing stand-off between FIFA and the Qatari authorities is pretty obvious and, in all honesty, it resembles two rutting stags.

As you will all know by now, several Cymru fans (including myself) were asked to remove our rainbow bucket hats while queuing to enter the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium for the USA v Wales match on Monday evening.

And it wasn’t just rainbow hats, some of our LGBTQ+ allies had rainbow wristbands, rainbow arm bands and rainbow laces confiscated. If it wasn’t such a disgrace, it would be quite comical as my friend who had his laces confiscated actually had to get them back from the officials as he wasn’t able to walk into the stadium without them.

I’m experienced enough to cope with the intimidating threats to take off the rainbow hats but nevertheless, it was a very upsetting experience for all concerned and we all felt offended and affronted. FIFA is now claiming that this was a local Qatari authority misinterpretation of the rules around rainbow gear, but we can only hope that a very clear line is drawn in time for Wales’ remaining matches.

I was told to remove my rainbow bucket hat ahead of Wales v USA
I was told to remove my rainbow bucket hat ahead of Wales v USA

Nevertheless, by sticking to our values and beliefs (as we said we would in Qatar), we have been handed a gigantic global media platform from that unsavoury incident. I think I’ve done around 60 interviews since then, on TV, radios and online from Sky and the BBC, to NBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Make no mistake, it wasn’t us who courted attention. We simply went along as fans to support our team wearing the gear we normally would and with assurances from FIFA that we were permitted to wear.

Many of us said that we would come to Qatar and live our values and beliefs so if we were prepared to back down at the first challenge to those values, we would have let everyone down. I am very conscious that plenty of my gay friends chose not to come for obvious reasons. This means that those of us who are here have a duty to speak for those back home. I believe it was really important for us to stand our ground – in a polite and respectful way – as it is the Cymru fans who are the very best ambassadors for our nation.

The massive global attention that followed these incidents means the world knows where we in Cymru stand on this issue. We are a proud, diverse nation with a commitment to inclusivity and the rights of every citizen and the whole world now knows that.

Beyond that, the Qatari people seem absolutely lovely but the tournament itself is pretty chaotic organisationally. It reminds me a bit of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010; there’s plenty of enthusiasm and charm but not a great deal of experience in organising a mega event of this scale, again underlining the problems with a state like Qatar being awarded the tournament in the first place.

On the field and mixing with the fans, it’s been everything I’ve dreamt about. When I went to the World Cup in France in 1998, I could hardly imagine what it would be like to be mingling with 31 other nations’ fans, having a beer and watching the live games in the incredible pool bars and beach clubs in Doha.

Nobody thinks we're part of England anymore
Nobody thinks we're part of England anymore

I’ve met some fantastic fans from across the world, the Mexicans have been loud and brilliant, as have the Tunisians and Argentinians. I can’t describe how incredible it feels to be here with Cymru. We discuss Gareth Bale and Kieffer Moore with other fans as they talk about Mbappe and Vinicius Jnr. It’s what lots of us have waited an entire lifetime for, it’s just such a shame it’s here where many feel unable to come or simply cannot afford to do so.

Since the Cymru v USA match, when we are asked where we’re from, it’s ‘Ah, the best singing in the World Cup, the loudest anthem, the most passionate fans, we love the colours and the bucket hats’. All of that might sound minor but make no mistake, it’s significant alright. There’s nobody here who thinks Wales is a part of England, our flag flies proudly from every building and every street alongside Brazil’s, Argentina’s and Germany’s .

Of course, we’re still disappointed the World Cup is in a state that doesn’t respect the values we hold dear but that’s a bigger issue for how FIFA politics works longer-term.

In the meantime, we have to make sure we sell Wales on the terraces and in the stands.

At one event, I swapped business cards with two female Qatari sports ministers who wanted to discuss strategies for developing girls’ football. Now, we are not naive enough to think that we can change the fundamentals of a regime like Qatar’s but there are definitely opportunities for discussing the potential for change and betterment here in Qatar, not least with the other 30 nations in the tournament. After all, it’s a basic principle of sports diplomacy (and indeed most diplomacy) that to have any influence, one has to be in the room.

A rainbow corner flag has been put up at the Welsh training facility in Doha
A rainbow corner flag has been put up at the Welsh training facility in Doha

The scale of the World Cup is simply immense and you can feel its global reach here. There simply is no comparator except the Olympics and Wales doesn’t compete as an independent nation there. That’s why this is a such a massive and unique opportunity to sell Wales to the world.

I don’t want to sound too transactional but I think Welsh people recognise that we’re not known across the world but here we are doing a lot to change that lack of awareness. Most people across the world think Wales is an adjunct of England or simply a region of the UK: here we are able to show that we are an independent football nation with our own language and culture, our own flag and our own values.

We’re marketing an image of Wales that’s a modern, positive one. Remember, if people don’t know where Wales is, we are reliant on the UK Government promoting our nation not ourselves – and I know which I would rather. Neither is it just about building relationships with Middle Eastern countries, there’s 31 other countries in this World Cup, many of whom have a Welsh diaspora, and that gives us a massive opportunity. It would be unforgivable not to take advantage of this unique chance. How else can we boost tourism, trade and our economy?

Finally, I want to reassure people at home that we’re not going to compromise on our beliefs and what Wales is all about. We will continue to stand up for what we believe in – human rights for all citizens wherever and whoever they are. We will carry on representing all of the Welsh nation and all of the people at home who felt they couldn’t come here. This tournament has always been about far more than just football so let’s hope Cymru can win on and off the pitch.