FIFA has a warning for gay soccer fans: Public displays of affection during next year’s World Cup could be dangerous, even deadly.
FARE, an organization formerly known as Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), is distributing guides for LGBTQ people attending next summer’s championship games, which will be held in Moscow. Although homosexuality is technically legal in Russia, the passage of an anti-LGBTQ propaganda law in 2013 has led to an increase in violence against queer and trans people. Hate crimes against the community have doubled in the past four years.
Piara Powar, executive director of the third-party watchdog organization, says that the pamphlets will urge “caution” for LGBTQ fans.
“The guide will advise gay people to be cautious in any place which is not seen to be welcoming to the LGBTQ community,” Powar tells The Guardian. “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.”
Federico Addiechi, FIFA’s head of sustainability and diversity, says the Kremlin has assured that “everyone will feel safe, comfortable, and welcome” at the games.
“Everyone should be welcomed to the World Cup in Russia, the same as it was the case for everyone to be accepted and welcomed at previous World Cups,” he claims in an interview with the Brisbane Times. “This is what we expect.”
But the LGBTQ community has reason to be concerned the Russian government will not prioritize their safety during the World Cup, scheduled between June 14 and July 15. The Eurasian country attempted to undermine protections for queer and trans people at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Russia and Egypt opposed an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policy attached to the “Olympic Truce Resolution,” a peace agreement that must be approved every two years. The nations threatened not to sign onto the ordinance with the provisions in place.
That effort reportedly failed.
During the 2014 Summer Olympics in Sochi, President Vladimir Putin assured LGBTQ travelers to Russia that they could “feel relaxed and calm” during their stay, so long as they “leave the children in peace.” He added, “We are not forbidding anything and nobody is being grabbed off the street.”
Although there were no reports of anti-LGBTQ violence at the games, queer and trans people have frequently faced shocking and brutal attacks in Russia.
Gay men have been tortured and humiliated by extremist groups who kidnap them and broadcast the abuse on YouTube, which serves to out the victims to their families and communities, opening them up to further brutality. Six activists were targeted in an acid attack outside of an LGBTQ conference in Moscow earlier this month. The assailant has yet to be apprehended by police.
LGBTQ groups in Germany and the U.K. have reportedly requested to wave rainbow flags at next year’s World Cup, although the appeal has yet to be ruled on.
Photography:David McNew/Getty Images