The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia is fast shaping up to be the most unpleasant and ill-advised international football tournament ever staged.
Until the 2022 World Cup in Qatar arrives, of course.
The decision to stage the finals in Russia went largely under the radar thanks to the furore that greeted plans to allow Qatar to host the competition – a move that will most likely see the tournament played in winter, rather than summer, due to the region’s blistering heat.
But anyone left in any doubt as to whether the Russia finals would be an equally bad idea were reminded of that fact after FIFA’s anti-discrimination advisers issued a warning to any gay football fans travelling to the finals that public displays of affection were best avoided.
According to the FARE Network, actions of this kind could be met with an aggressive response from intolerant locals.
Russia is pretty backwards when it comes to homosexuality, you see – being gay was actually a criminal offence up until the year 1993 when it was finally decriminalised.
Even so, there’s still a strong anti-gay sentiment in the region which only intensified in 2013 with the introduction of a law prohibiting the promotion of “propaganda” legitimising homosexuality to minors. Which, by the way, is completely insane on a number of levels
Still, FARE executive director Piara Powar has urged caution.
“If you have gay fans walking down the street holding hands, will they face danger in doing so? That depends on which city they are in and the time of day,” he said.
“Issues relating to the LGBT community are not part of the public discourse. Gay people have a place in Russia which is quite hidden and underground.”
FARE is even producing a guide to help LGBT fans travelling to the tournament and are seeking guidance on whether fans will be allowed to display rainbow flags inside stadiums or whether this will fall under the homosexuality “propaganda” laws. How depressing.
Gay fans aren’t the only ones that might be fearful though – Russia has a pretty patchy record when it comes to racism too but FARE is eager to stress that these concerns shouldn’t put fans off going.
“Do go to the World Cup, but be cautious,” Mr Powar added.
“There are two elements to it — one towards people of colour and other element is far-right nationalism. Far-right extremist groups have had around 300 people banned from attending the World Cup.
“After years of denial about racism, the Russian FA finally taking action, the group under Alexei Smertin has been addressing the issue and fines have been issued.”
That said, with England on course for another lacklustre tournament and the threat of homophobic and racist violence and abuse very much on the horizon, it might just be easier to give the tournament a miss and just watch it on telly. It would be a lot cheaper and would send a message in itself.
That way there’s also no risk of any “gay propaganda” getting in the way of all the Vladimir Putin/FIFA propaganda either. Yeah, we went there.
The draw for the group phase of the World Cup is this Friday.
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