Despite including sexual orientation and gender identity protections in their qualifications to host the World Cup, FIFA will hold the famous soccer tournament in Russia this year and Qatar the next. Both countries are notoriously dangerous for LGBTQ people.
Russia has continuously been in the news for years for condoning violence against LGBT people, passing laws to ban “gay propaganda,” and imprisoning activists who protest the injustice. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, punishable with up to seven years in prison and a public lashing.
While FIFA ignored pleas from fans and players to host the game in more welcoming environment, LGBTQ people cannot gloss over the dangers they face if they attend. The British Football Supporters’ Federation took the unusual step last week of “strongly” warning gay fans to “not publicly display your sexuality” at this year’s games.
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Everything will be fine, FIFA promised. Russia pinky-swore they’d be nice to you, they said.
Russian hooligans are now sending threats to British LGBTQ fans, warning they will “be rooted out and stabbed at World Cup,” according to the British newspaper, the Mirror. Several of the threats have been so menacing, police were notified.
“We’ve had people say that if they find us they’ll stab us, so it’s been a mixture but they’re being dealt with seriously and those investigations are still ongoing,” Joe White, Pride in Football’s campaign leader, said.
“We shouldn’t have to feel that we have to behave any differently than we would. It’s not like I’m going to be sticking my tongue down people’s throats or anything. I’m going out there for the football and to experience the World Cup.”
With the Football Association and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office warning LGBTQ fans not to “publicly display their sexuality,” many are wondering what that would specifically involve.
During the Winter Olympics, activists protested the country’s rabidly anti-LGBTQ laws by waving rainbow flags, an iconic sign of LGBTQ pride. But could it get them killed this time?
“If it’s safe to do so we’ll be taking rainbow flags, hopefully getting some form of visibility in stadiums to show that LGBT football fans do exist and, just as much as any fan, we’re a valid part of the game,” said White.
“Unless there is someone kind of putting their head above the parapet, it’s very easy for them to say we don’t exist. I think we definitely have a responsibility to highlight any form of inequality. Hopefully teams, players and managers can come into that conversation when they feel safe to do so.”
So far, FIFA has continued to deny there’s a potential problem and, instead, has downplayed potential violence despite the continual death threats.