WHEN the England squad arrived in Qatar for the World Cup, they did so on a gay-themed plane. Not only was it called Rain Bow (a reference to the rainbow flag), it also featured a picture of Oscar, Virgin’s LGBTQ mascot. The suggestion was that the squad was putting on a show of defiance in the face of Qatar’s anti-gay laws.

Apparently, the team will be indicating their defiance in other ways too. The captain Harry Kane, for instance, intends to wear a “One Love” armband during the games even if it is prohibited by FIFA. But I have a question: wouldn’t One Love armbands be more appropriate if football in Britain had created an atmosphere in which a gay player actually felt able to come out?

The other obvious problem with apparent acts of defiance is they’re only impressive if there’s real sacrifice or actual consequences involved. The players, and support teams, and commentators, can sit in a gay plane and wear gay armbands but as long as they’re still taking part in the competition, and being paid to do so, it’s hard to see their acts of protest as terribly significant or impressive.

But we are where we are and the World Cup is going ahead so we’re left with the question of what gay fans should do in a potentially dangerous situation. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and same-sex relationships can be punishable by death so it’s perfectly understandable that some fans have said they’ll boycott the whole thing. Who can blame them?

But what about the fans who’ve decided to go? The Foreign Secretary James Cleverly got a bit of stick the other day when he said gay fans should show "flex and compromise" and "respect the culture” of the host nation, and when he was asked about the subject again this week, he defended his comments. The Foreign Office’s travel advice, he said, was designed to make sure people can be safe and happy and he urged people to read it.

It seems to me that Mr Cleverly’s advice is spot on. The Foreign Office guidance is that gay people should research the laws and attitudes in the country they’re visiting and exercise discretion. They also suggest that in some areas, it might be best for couples to avoid overt public displays of affection so as to avoid unwanted attention or hassle.

This is not, as some have suggested, “defending discriminatory values”, it is simply showing common sense in a world that still has a long way to go on LGBT rights. Indeed, there are parts of our own country where it might still be best for gay couples “to avoid overt public displays of affection”. Indeed, the fact that such displays are still rare tells you all you need to know.

The advice Mr Cleverly and the Foreign Office are handing out is also clearly based on the desire to keep people safe and it’s pretty much what gay travellers have been doing their whole lives. The pioneers of gay rights put themselves in harm’s way and still do (the inspirational Peter Tatchell being the most obvious example) but gay people also know how to adjust to the circumstances to avoid confrontation at best and violence or death at worst.

Advising people to do the same in Qatar, as Mr Cleverly has done, is perfectly reasonable and is already happening. The headline story is that the country has discriminatory and draconian laws – which it does – but having spoken to people there, it’s also clear there’s a healthy gay scene that operates in much the same way it did in Britain before the law and attitudes changed. In fact, a gay man from Qatar appearing on the TV with Mr Cleverly gave the same advice to fans thinking of going: adapt to the local laws and customs.

The point here is that the changes to the law in the UK, and the even deeper changes we’ve seen to public attitudes, may also happen one day in Qatar (and not giving them the World Cup might have helped to bring that about). But now it’s going ahead anyway, it makes sense for gay fans to follow the advice. It was FIFA that awarded the World Cup to Qatar. But it’s gay people who are having to make the best of it.