FIFA’s blind eye towards Russian homophobia casts dark cloud over World Cup
by Sean Maslin
“All are welcome here.”
Those were the words that FIFA President Gianni Infantino used yesterday to describe Russia.
The words were given during a presentation prior to the kickoff of the FIFA Confederations Cup. It was preceded by Russian President Vladimir Putin and followed up with a series of dancers and music. It was more of the same that FIFA has been known for over the past 30 some odd years. Now on most occasions we could generally gloss over all of this because there seems to be understanding that FIFA enjoys the pageantry of itself and to make boastful statements.
In the past, one might be willing to ignore Infantino for the sole fact that after his pontificating a football match will played. Going through a FIFA ceremony while waiting for a match is much like getting through a terrible dinner for a delicious desert.
Sadly not even pie can make this situation in Russia better.
Those that watched the FIFA opening ceremonies were treated to a sermon of blissful ignorance, both by Infantino and the Russian President. The picture that they would like for you to believe is that Russia is the land of openness that people of different races, religions, sexual orientations, and backgrounds are treated equally. While not all Russians are racists or homophobic their government has certainly through their law and their actions have created an environment that is increasingly hostile of a different background from themselves.
There are many instances of homophobia that should concern the international community and those that wish to travel to Russia to the 2018 World Cup. But the situation in Chechnya is particularly alarming. In April a report conducted by the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, reported that Chechen security forces have been arresting men who are believed to be gay and torturing them and beating them. Those that have found themselves facing the wraith of Chechen security officers have told their stories in recent weeks in publications such as NPR and the New York Times (Parents of younger readers may want to read these reports first before sharing with their children as they can be particularly graphic).
Despite evidence to the contrary, Mr. Putin does not believe that Russia has a problem with homophobia. In an interview with Oliver Stone this week Putin said,
“There is no situation like in some Muslim countries where homosexuals face death penalty.” He would go on to say, “We have no restrictions or harassment based on gender. Moreover, many people explicitly talk about their non-traditional sexual orientation.”
Chechnya’s regional leader Ramzyan Kadyron doesn’t believe that people need to talk about “non-traditional sexual orientation” because it simply does not exist in his area. In an interview with the Interfax Agency he said:
“In Chechen society, there is no such thing as nontraditional orientation. Our people have for millennia lived by different rules prescribed by God Almighty and dictated by the moral and ethical norms of inter-personal relations.”
It should also be noted Mr. Kadyron’s region includes Kazan which hosted Portugal versus Mexico on Sunday and will be a host city at the 2018 World Cup.
Once again this is a situation where what one says and what is actually occurring are two different things. Perhaps President Putin thinks that the many different protests about his countries byzantine LGBT laws is a form of ‘explicitly talking about their non-traditional sexual orientation.’ Then again it was his government that also puts down these protests and bans forms of expression like the ‘gay clown meme’.
While Russia is certainly not the only country in the world to have issues of homophobia, it is the only one hosting the World Cup. The World Cup is at least intended to be an event where all parties irregardless of their background can enjoy without fear of being ostracized or being attacked. Given Russian supporters’ past behavior at international competitions and during domestic competitions, supporters entering the country would need to ask themselves the question as to whether their safety is worth making the trip?
That is a pretty terrible question to have to ask and it is on FIFA that they have chosen a country to host the World Cup where not all of their supporters might be welcome. It wouldn’t be the first time that FIFA has attempted to hold a match related to the World Cup in troubled waters.
Those of a certain age will recall the 1973 World Cup playoff where Chile was set to host the Soviet Union at the Estadio Nacional in Santiago a site that held over 7,000 political prisoners. The Soviet Union refused to play the match but FIFA scheduled the match anyways. It was a black eye for FIFA then and it is a blackeye now.
Let’s also dispel this notion that FIFA does not know about the Russian government’s issues with homophobia and race. If FIFA were unaware of Russia’s problems with homosexuality why did it wait until this week to announce that teams whose supporters spout racist or homophobic remarks may cost their team a match? FIFA would also certainly be aware that members of the Russian government also requested that the video game FIFA 2017 be banned from the country for the game’s ties with Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces, an LGBT Rights Group.
The hope was that FIFA under Infantino was a different regime, that it had actually learned from its mistakes of the past and was willing to become a more responsible organization. But as we are slowly starting to find out with FIFA’s persistence on holding the next two World Cups in Russia and Qatar and the firing of their Ethics Committee that this is very much still the same organization that looked at profit first and people second.
FIFA is more than willing to turn a blind eye to the blatant homophobia and human rights conditions in Russia because the money is still coming in. The question is: can we do the same thing?
All might be welcome in FIFA’s Russia. But in the real Russia it is certainly not a welcoming place for those of the LGBT community.