Gay fans warned holding hands at Russia World Cup will be dangerous

• Equality campaigner Fare will produce cautionary guide for LGBT fans
• Piara Powar: ‘Gay people have a place in Russia which is quite underground’

LGBT fans will be warned about holding hands in public and other outward displays of affection when in Russia for the World Cup next summer. A cautionary guide will be produced by Fare – formerly Football Against Racism in Europe and now a pressure group that campaigns for equality in football – and dispersed to fans travelling to the tournament.

Being gay is not illegal in Russia but the country has a law banning teaching about homosexuality in schools and there are numerous cases where gay people from foreign countries have been attacked because of their sexuality.

Piara Powar, executive director of Fare, said:“The guide will advise gay people to be cautious in any place which is not seen to be welcoming to the LGBT community. The same message is there for black and ethnic minority fans – do go to the World Cup but be cautious. 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.

“The guide will also include some detailed explanations of, for example, the actual situation of the LGBT community in Russia. It is not a crime to be gay but there is a law against the promotion of homosexuality to minors. 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 has also written to Fifa on behalf of two fans’ groups from Britain and Germany to ask for permission to raise a rainbow flag inside stadiums during the World Cup, which begins in June next year. Although political displays are banned inside stadiums it is understood the governing body would not consider rainbow flags to fall into that bracket and fans would be welcome to wave them before and during games.

The World Cup draw takes place on Friday at the Kremlin, where organisers will hope football is the focus of attention. But fears that the spectre of homophobia and racism could deter some supporters from travelling to Russia are very real. Fare is imploring Fifa to introduce an official rule whereby fans can be reprimanded under a specific charge of homophobia.

The plea follows the court of arbitration for sport’s decision to cancel two fines imposed by Fifa on Mexico’s FA after their fans loudly chanted the Spanish word “puto” – widely known to be an anti-gay slur – during international matches. Fifa had to bring charges under general fan misbehaviour as opposed to specific homophobic abuse.

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“Since the Brazil World Cup we have seen variations of that chant becoming a big thing in football,” said Powar. “There is no offence of homophobia in Fifa’s rules and we have made clear that there should be. It is critical there is a clear message about Fifa’s ability to act in these cases against the fans that are responsible.”

Far-right extremist groups have already had around 300 people banned from attending the World Cup. The former Chelsea midfielder Alexei Smertin was appointed as an anti-racism and discrimination inspector at the Russian Football Union and appears to be taking the problem seriously, issuing fines to offending clubs.

Powar said: “In Russia it tends to be that politicians feel they are being attacked and say it is all a western conspiracy driven by the western media – usually the UK media – and then after a while they accept there are some issues and quietly get on with dealing with those issues. The local population are pretty proud of the fact they are hosting and want to be seen as acting as a good host.”

by Martha Kelner
Source – The Guardian