AN ambassador for the World Cup in Qatar has described homosexuality as “damage in the mind”, just two weeks before the opening of the football tournament in the Gulf state.

Former Qatari footballer Khalid Salman told a German public broadcaster that being gay is “haram,” or forbidden in Arabic, and that he has a problem with children seeing gay people.

Excerpts of the television interview were shown on Monday night on ZDF’s news programme heute journal (today’s journal).

About 1.2 million international visitors are expected in Qatar for the month-long tournament, which has faced criticism ever since the gas-rich emirate was selected as the host by Fifa in December 2010.

READ MORE: Qatar 2022: A World Cup plagued by controversy from the start

Concerns about the conservative country’s treatment of gay people living in the country, as well as LGBTQ tourists attending the World Cup, have been expressed for a long time.

In the interview, Salman said that homosexuality “is a spiritual harm”.

“During the World Cup, many things will come here to the country. Let’s talk about gays,” Salman said in English, which was simultaneously dubbed into German in the TV segment.

“The most important thing is, everybody will accept that they come here. But they will have to accept our rules,” the former footballer added.

The interview was cut short by a press officer of the World Cup’s organising committee after Salman expressed his views on homosexuals, ZDF reported.

Meanwhile, picking Qatar to host the World Cup was a mistake, former Fifa president Sepp Blatter has said, as he cited a meeting between Nicolas Sarkozy and Michel Platini for swaying key votes.

The 86-year-old spoke to the Swiss newspaper group Tamedia in his first major interview since being acquitted with Platini in July of financial misconduct at Fifa after a trial in a federal criminal court.

“It’s a country that’s too small,” Blatter said of Qatar, the smallest host by size since the 1954 tournament in Switzerland. “Football and the World Cup are too big for that.”

The 32 teams will play 64 games in eight stadiums in and around the city of Doha, which has been transformed since 2010 by massive construction projects to prepare for the World Cup.

Games start on November 20, with about 1.2m international visitors expected to arrive in Qatar during the World Cup. With limited places to stay in the host nation, some will commute from neighbouring states.

“It was a bad choice. And I was responsible for that as president at the time,” said Blatter, who has said he voted for the United States. Its bid was beaten by Qatar in the final round of a five-candidate contest to be the 2022 host.

It became part of Fifa lore that an expected US victory swung towards Qatar at a meeting that Sarkozy hosted in Paris in the week before the December 2, 2010 vote by Fifa’s executive committee.

Former French footballer Platini, then president of the European soccer body Uefa and a vice president of Fifa, was invited by then French president Sarkozy to his official residence. The crown prince of Qatar, now the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, was also there.

Yesterday, Blatter repeated his claim that Sarkozy put pressure on Platini and again gave his version of a telephone call Platini made to him after the Paris meeting that the World Cup voting plan had changed.

“Thanks to the four votes of Mr Platini and his (Uefa) team, the World Cup went to Qatar rather than the United States. It’s the truth,” Blatter said of the 14-8 voting result.

In comments to the Associated Press in 2015, Platini broadly confirmed the significance of that meeting in Paris.

“Sarkozy never asked me to vote for Qatar, but I knew what would be good,” Platini told an AP reporter in Zurich seven years ago.

He acknowledged that he “might have told” American officials that he would be voting for their 2022 bid.

Blatter did not specifically refer to criticism of Qatar over labour and human rights issues since 2010.

However, he did question why his successor as Fifa president, Gianni Infantino, has moved to live in Qatar for at least the past year.

“What can Fifa say if its president is in the same boat as Qatar?” he said.

Blatter noted growing calls, by rights groups and several Fifa member federations including the US and England, to create a compensation fund for families of workers who died or were injured. Qatar’s government has resisted the calls and described them as a “publicity stunt”.