Russia is by far not one of the LGBT-friendly countries of the world. While it did decriminalise homosexuality back in 1993 and declassified it as a mental illness in 1999, the country of the cold winds does not yet recognise same-sex marriage. Moreover, quite a controversial law forbidding the spread of “gay propaganda” to the minors, or in short, any public display or promotion of homosexuality or other LGBT related content was passed a few years ago.
Ever since this happened in 2013, there has been a rise in the violence and hate crimes against the queer community, along with the general discrimination and ingrained homophobia that is so commonplace that it has become too mundane to notice.
Source: Nomadic Matt
With the 2018 FIFA World Cup being held in the same country, there were thousands of speculations as to how the whole scenario will play out.
There were severe protests against the law, and the concerned authorities were also called out by the LGBT community and allies all around the world for hosting a tournament like the FIFA World Cup in a country that bans display of LGBT activities. In many occasions, the protestors were assaulted by the police and dragged away.
But when it came to FIFA World Cup, it was not about the Russian people only. There were many groups of LGBTQ people from different countries all around the world, both participating and neutral ones, who were hoping to visit the host country and enjoy a few matches of football in peace.
Source: Getty Images
But was it possible?
To make sure it was, FIFA for the first time brought in ground breaking protocols to handle hatred and discriminatory occurrences in and around the football stadiums. Trained personnel were posted during every match with complete knowledge of what qualifies as discrimination. Referees were authorized with the power of intervention as well, if things got out of hand, and were allowed to initiate the three step procedure that FIFA decided.
The process starts with a public announcement of warning to stop the unsavoury behaviour, followed by temporary suspension of match and second warning, and the third and final step would be to stop the on-going match altogether.
With homophobic slurs and discrimination being a rampant among the spectators of a football match, this protocol, although never deployed, was some sort of a reassurance on the authority’s part. Moreover, Russian LGBT Sports Federation has worked closely with FIFA in making sure that the event in Russia has a safe and friendly environment for LGBTQ community and also work towards promotion of diversity and inclusivity in Russian football.
Among the members who attended the conferences of the two organisations, there is Ryan Atkin, the first openly gay referee in English Football and Sophie Cook, the first transgender woman to work as a staff member of EPL.
Source: Sky Sports
But how effective were the rules?
As we all know, formulating rules do not help. Implementing them is the real deal, and as it seems, Russia and its football federation has not been too successful in doing so. A number of LGBT fan groups from around the world have reported that they have received warnings and even threats that their “kind” will not be warmly welcome in Russia for the World Cup.
According to Fare Network, the anti-discriminatory body that has collaborated with FIFA to take care of issues like homophobia, sexism, racism, xenophobia and others, there have been homophobic behaviours by fans inside the Russian stadium on at least a dozen separate occasions in the last one year.
Needless to say, that did not vanish overnight just because a new rule was set down. The most common yet disturbing is the case of homophobic chants and slurs, along with casual threats towards the community over social media and also in person.
An UK-based alliance for football fan groups who belong to the LGBT umbrella called Pride in Football has lodged a complaint for the same with FIFA and the case is currently being investigated by the governing body.
But can they really stop the love people have for each other and for football?
The answer is probably no.
Before the opening game of the World Cup between Russia and Saudi Arabia, the president of Russian LGBT Sport Federation, Alexander Agapov unfurled a pride flag in the stands while President Putin gave his speech.
Source: Twitter – Agapov’s profile
The mighty giant English Football Association (FA) also stood behind Di Cunningham and her English LGBT soccer fan network, Three Lions Pride and endorsed a huge rainbow flag with the organisation’s logo sewed, that was very visible in the stands during England’s first match against Tunisia.
Source: Di Cunningham, organizer of Three Lions Pride
Another Spanish LGBTQ+ group, perhaps the largest of the country, called Federacion Estatal de Lesbianas, Gays, Transexuales y Bisexuales, did a quick brainwork of the situation and came out with a lovely solution.
Source: The Hidden Flag
A bunch of activists associated with the organisation participated in a sort of photoshoot on different locations of Moscow, including the underground metro, the Red Square and outside the Christ the Saviour Cathedral.
Source: The Hidden Flag
Since any form of display of LGBTQ emotions is forbidden by law, these activists wore football jerseys of their respective countries, and together, the colour codes of Spain, Holland, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia very prominently formed a rainbow on the streets of Russia.
Source: The Hidden Flag
They posted the photographs once they were back home safe, because one can never know what is too much of a risk. However, the group was not attacked or harassed while they were putting up the show.
All these baby steps will hopefully become a symbol of a silent protest against these kinds of senselessly stringent rules and regulations, and someday transform into a more powerful voice that cannot be silenced.