Gay Soccer Fans, Enjoy This World Cup, Because You’re Not Welcome at the Next Two

The 2018 and 2022 World Cups will be hosted by countries whose legal codes and cultures are rife with homophobia.

Brazil's LGBT-friendly environment puts it in sharp contrast to the next two cup hosts.
National Journal
Patrick Reis
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Patrick Reis
June 12, 2014, 7:42 a.m.

Rus­sia treats gay people hor­ribly. So does Qatar.

Both coun­tries have laws dis­crim­in­at­ing against les­bi­an, gay, bi­sexu­al, and trans­gender in­di­vidu­als, and in both coun­tries, that leg­al code feeds a cul­ture of vi­ol­ence against LGBT in­di­vidu­als.

But none of that stopped FIFA, world soc­cer’s or­gan­iz­ing body, from gift­ing Rus­sia the 2018 World Cup and hand­ing host-na­tion status to Qatar in 2022.

It’s a baff­ling choice by FIFA, an or­gan­iz­a­tion that loves to bask in its self-pro­claimed be­ne­vol­ence. The body sees it­self as more than a sports or­gan­iz­a­tion, claim­ing that it wields the power of the world’s most pop­u­lar sport to pro­mote peace, unity, and tol­er­ance. In­deed, FIFA’s bylaws ban dis­crim­in­a­tion in soc­cer on the basis of a long list of cat­egor­ies, in­clud­ing race, re­li­gion, na­tion­al­ity and — yes — “sexu­al ori­ent­a­tion.”

That’s im­possibly at odds with the cur­rent en­vir­on­ment in either Rus­sia or Qatar.

A quick re­view of Rus­si­an policies on ho­mo­sexu­al­ity: Last sum­mer, the coun­try passed a law ban­ning any sort of pub­lic ad­vocacy for the rights of ho­mo­sexu­als. The “anti-pro­pa­ganda” law claims to be a guard against “re­cruit­ing” chil­dren in­to ho­mo­sexu­al­ity — part of a false but per­sist­ent cam­paign to link ho­mo­sexu­al­ity and pe­do­phil­ia — but its de facto res­ult has been state per­se­cu­tion of those en­gaged in LGTB ad­vocacy.

The state-sanc­tioned dis­crim­in­a­tion is backed by broad anti-gay sen­ti­ment among the Rus­si­an pub­lic. And the ban on pub­lic ad­vocacy has tied the hands of ad­voc­ates for tol­er­ance at a time when bru­tal beat­ings of gay men — again un­der the bogus guise of a cam­paign against pe­do­phil­ia — are in­creas­ingly com­mon.

And then there’s Qatar, a coun­try whose leg­al code goes bey­ond Rus­sia’s to ban ho­mo­sexu­al acts en­tirely.

The Gulf state’s leg­al code al­lows for up to sev­en years of im­pris­on­ment for ho­mo­sexu­al con­duct. As a pris­on al­tern­at­ive, the state has turned to flog­ging — in­clud­ing of for­eign­ers.

Here’s what the U.S. State De­part­ment had to say about Qatar’s treat­ment of ho­mo­sexu­als in its 2013 hu­man rights re­port:

LGBT in­di­vidu­als largely hid their sexu­al pref­er­ences in pub­lic due to an un­der­ly­ing pat­tern of dis­crim­in­a­tion to­ward LGBT per­sons based on cul­tur­al and re­li­gious val­ues pre­val­ent in the so­ci­ety. There were no gov­ern­ment ef­forts to ad­dress po­ten­tial dis­crim­in­a­tion nor are there an­ti­discrim­in­a­tion laws.

Due to so­cial and re­li­gious con­ven­tions, there were no LGBT or­gan­iz­a­tions nor were there gay pride marches or gay rights ad­vocacy events. In­form­a­tion was not avail­able on of­fi­cial or private dis­crim­in­a­tion in em­ploy­ment, oc­cu­pa­tion, hous­ing, state­less­ness, or ac­cess to edu­ca­tion or health care based on sexu­al ori­ent­a­tion and gender iden­tity. Vic­tims of such dis­crim­in­a­tion, however, were un­likely to come forth and com­plain be­cause of the po­ten­tial for fur­ther har­ass­ment or dis­crim­in­a­tion.

The fact that FIFA chose these na­tions to be­stow its crown jew­el upon is prob­lem­at­ic for any num­ber of reas­ons. Con­cretely, it means that LGBT soc­cer fans who want to at­tend the next two world tour­na­ments do so at their own per­il, risk­ing both state per­se­cu­tion or threats from anti-gay vi­gil­antes.

And on a macro level, FIFA’s de­cision is even more dis­ap­point­ing. By re­ward­ing coun­tries that dis­crim­in­ate against LGBT in­di­vidu­als, FIFA is of­fer­ing a de facto stamp of ap­prov­al to those coun­tries — af­firm­ing their right to be­ne­fit eco­nom­ic­ally and cul­tur­ally from a world tour­na­ment while dis­crim­in­at­ing against a siz­able seg­ment of the world’s pop­u­la­tion.

The fail­ure to stand up for LGBT rights is far from FIFA’s only prob­lem. The or­gan­iz­a­tion is already on de­fense over al­leged bribery from Qatar, and Qatar is already on the de­fense about the leth­al con­di­tions for the for­eign work­ers build­ing its sta­di­ums. And none of that scrapes at the broad­est cri­tique of the cup: that it’s a net neg­at­ive for host coun­tries’ cit­izens — a cri­tique that is par­tic­u­larly sa­li­ent as poor Brazili­ans take to the streets to aks, es­sen­tially, “What about us?”

But while FIFA will likely be liv­ing with these scan­dals for years to come, there are ac­tions it could take right now to do bet­ter on gay rights.

The or­gan­iz­a­tion could lever­age World Cup host­ing priv­ileges with con­di­tions for LGBT tol­er­ance — both be­fore the se­lec­tion pro­cess and after be­ing chosen. At a bare min­im­um, that would mean re­quir­ing coun­tries to make a cred­ible guar­an­tee of the safety of LGBT vis­it­ors in or­der to be able to host the tour­na­ment. And if FIFA really wanted to live up to its self-writ­ten stand­ards, it could go well bey­ond that: lever­aging host­ing priv­ileges to push for sub­stant­ive, per­man­ent changes in the way both coun­tries treat ho­mo­sexu­al cit­izens and vis­it­ors.

For now, some good news for gays and les­bi­an soc­cer fans: Brazil — where the 2014 tour­na­ment kicks off Thursday af­ter­noon — is a pi­on­eer in LGBT equal­ity, and those laws come ac­com­pan­ied by an open, tol­er­ant, and wel­com­ing cul­ture.

And it’s pos­sible that some­time between now and 2022, FIFA will drop its ag­nosti­cism on LGBT rights and start liv­ing up to its bylaws. If so, that will be cause for cel­eb­ra­tion. But if not, the LGBT com­munity and its al­lies should en­joy this next month of soc­cer — be­cause we won’t get to en­joy an­oth­er like it for a long, long time.

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