World Cup will help Qatar improve on human rights, Spain's gay sports minister says

FILE PHOTO: Socialist Catalan leader Miquel Iceta delivers his speech during the investiture debate of Quim Torra, the candidate proposed by former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont to head the regional Catalan government, in Barcelona

MADRID (Reuters) - Human rights in Qatar will improve as it hosts people from all over the globe for the World Cup, bolstering freedom and tolerance in the country, Spain's openly gay Sports Minister Miquel Iceta said on Thursday.

Qatar is the first Middle Eastern country to be picked by world soccer body FIFA to host the World Cup, but the small energy-rich nation has come under intense pressure for its treatment of foreign workers and restrictive social laws.

Seven European team captains backed out from plans to wear armbands symbolising diversity and tolerance following FIFA pressure.

Iceta said he would have preferred that players had been allowed to wear them, though he added that decisions by private bodies should be respected.

The minister said he will travel to Qatar to support Spain if the team makes progress in the tournament, but did not say if he would wear the armband.

"I am gay. I came out of the closet back in 1999. I want people of a sexual orientation that is not the majority sexual orientation to have exactly the same rights and treatment everywhere in the world."

Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and punishable with prison.

Iceta said it was "fully compatible" to raise awareness about human rights and abide by the rules set by international bodies.

Organisers have repeatedly said that everyone was welcome - although Human Rights Watch said LGBT people were arrested in the run-up to the World Cup.

(Reporting by Emma Pinedo; Editing by David Latona)