LGBT+ fans and the 2018 World Cup

lgbt rainbow flags credit william murphy flickr

As preparations for the World Cup continue, the latest in our series of blogs ahead of the tournament looks at the issues faced by LGBT+ fans who are thinking of heading out to the World Cup in Russia. We have pulled together the following advice and information in partnership with various LGBT+ supporter groups and Stonewall, to ensure fans are aware of the issues they may face at the tournament this summer. 

There is no reason not to come to the World Cup if you are LGBT+. However, although same-sex sexual activity has been decriminalised in Russia since 1993, it is strongly understood and advised that you do not publicly display your sexuality, but this is up to the individual. With any trip abroad it is essential to understand your destination’s cultural and ideological beliefs. Whilst often you are able to behave as you would in the UK, certain things must be treated with caution in societies less tolerant than back home. 

Given the current situation in Russia, Foreign and Commonwealth Advice (FCO) should always be followed. The FCO has also put together travel advice for LGBT+ travellers.

As of 2013 “propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations” to minors is prohibited, including talking about homosexuality issues or gay rights, effectively prohibiting any public display of LGBT+ rights. Such a law is also generally supported by the population due to the conservative and Christian Orthodox beliefs held by many. In 2017 Russia was ranked 48th out of 49 European countries for LGBT+ rights and there are no laws that exist to protect LGBT+ people from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

In April 2017 the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that men accused of being gay were being rounded up by authorities in Chechnya, subsequently being detained in unofficial prisons, tortured and even killed. Until such news broke, the crackdown, which local groups report started in December 2016, was largely unknown. It is estimated that more than 200 people have been targeted so far, and that the crackdown is not only ongoing, but has extended to other areas of the North Caucasus. The areas of Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, and other Muslim regions within the North Caucasus should be avoided.

It’s important to note that whilst no World Cup matches will be played in any regions of the North Caucasus, it is important to understand nonetheless that Russia is a big country and attitudes will vary from city to city, and in many cases it is no more dangerous than parts of the UK.

There are a handful of bars for the LGBT+ community in both Moscow and Saint Petersburg, of which the latter is viewed as a largely liberal city, although in the capital, Moscow Pride was banned for 100-years in 2012. Elsewhere the scene tends to be more underground but www.English.gay.ru is a handy resource for putting you in touch with guides in both Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Unfortunately the issue of LGBT+ rights has appeared a topic of taboo to the authorities ahead of Russia 2018, unlike before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, when Russian President Vladimir Putin said that gay people would be welcome in Sochi. However, a Russian Football Union official and World Cup ambassador has stated that he believes fans will be able to fly rainbow flags at the tournament. The former Chelsea player and the Russian FA’s equality officer, Alexei Smertin, advised there would be no ban on rainbow colours in Russia and fans would not be victimised for expressing feelings, although it is widely believed this could depend on individual circumstances.

This would contradict the aforementioned ‘propaganda law’ and Russian LGBT+ groups have questioned how safe LGBT+ fans will be who raise the Rainbow flag during matches.  Recently Russian LGBT+ activists have been detained for flying the Rainbow flag during a demonstration.

Fans travelling to Russia might have a different experience to the situation faced by the Russian LBGT+ community on a day-to- day basis. So whilst we can’t guarantee safety, circumstances could be different during this time when the world’s media will be focused upon the country.

Going to the toilet is a specific concern for trans people going to Russia for the World Cup. We advise that you judge the situation on a case by case basis. If you do not feel safe, try and find a fellow fan to accompany you. If there is a disabled toilet and you are alone, that could be the safest option.

Russia will want the World Cup to go without a hitch so it is highly probable there will be additional focus on ensuring that homophobia and other forms of discrimination don’t take place. FIFA has suggested to Pride in Football that any fans experiencing or hearing homophobia in World Cup venues should approach the FIFA appointed representative (and there will always be at least one in each stadium) should any appeals against discrimination be unsuccessfully made to stewards or police.

Meanwhile FIFA’s disciplinary code has recently been amended to cover further forms of discrimination including homophobia. Therefore abuse concerning sexual orientation can now be punishable by expulsion from the tournament. The three step process instigated during the Confederations Cup for dealing with discriminatory behaviour, including homophobic chants, will also be used during the World Cup, allowing match officials to to halt or even abandon games in incidences of discriminatory behaviour.

Additionally FIFA are introducing an Anti-Discrimination Monitoring System at all World Cup matches (more details of which can be found here - bit.ly/lgbt-monitoring), in which three match observers will support stadium security along with the investigations of FIFA’s disciplinary bodies, a programme that is in collaboration the Fare Network.

Moreover the Fare Network, formerly Football Against Racism in Europe, a pressure group that campaigns for equality in football has advised “gay people to be cautious in any p ace which is not seen to be welcoming to the LGBT+ community.” The group is set to distribute a guide to fans that are  travelling to Russia.

It is also encouraged that fans engage in any kind of solidarity that will also raise awareness, with international pressure cited as a genuine possibility to make a difference. Stonewall encourages fans and campaigners alike to use the tournament as an opportunity to shine a spotlight on Chechnya and other violations in Russia within the framework of existing campaigns, such as supporting and showing solidarity with the Russia LGBT+ network and others, rather than creating our own campaigns.

However in any situation please act with confidence, not aggression. This can be done by plugging into your community, such as other England fans who are going or those from other  LGBT+ groups, as well as making contact with LGBT+ fan groups of Russian clubs such as CSKA Moscow. It is also advisory to find out who else from your domestic club is travelling to the tournament. Furthermore you could find out of if FSE  or Pride House will be there, allowing you to plug into LGBT+ fans from other countries; you may also wish to download Grindr and other social apps.

The FSF blog is the space to challenge perceived wisdom, entertain readers and inform our members. The views expressed are those of the author and they don't necessarily represent FSF policy and (pay attention journalists) shouldn't be attributed to the FSF.

Thanks to William Murphy, whose image is used in this blog under the Creative Commons licence.