Russia has stated that LGBT+ soccer fans are welcome at the 2018 World Cup but many are sceptical with some organisations receiving anonymous threats.
Past reports state that LGBT+ fans should use caution when travelling to Russia for the World Cup but many fans are defying the warnings.
Di Cunningham, leader of an LGBT+ alliance fan group in the UK, was sent several anonymous threats via email warning her and her organisation to stay away from the World Cup.
Pride in Football also reported anonymous messages cautioning that their organisation was being investigated by Russian groups. They reported the threats to FIFA.
But the hostile warnings have not discouraged Cunningham or others from attending the tournament.
“I want to support my team and to ensure that, however small, there is a visible LGBT+ fan presence in a country which is hostile to that community,” said Cunningham to AFP.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, but the deeply homophobic climate has persisted. In 2013, Russia passed a federal law that prohibited exposing minors to homosexual propaganda.
This has resulted in the ban of gay pride events or discussions of homosexuality and gay rights where children could be present, especially in public spheres.
In Rostov, one city where the World Cup will take place is home to an ultra-conservative group of traditionalist Cossack communities. They warned that men who are seen kissing in public will be reported to the police.
“If two men are kissing each other at the World Cup, we will tip off the police, drawing their attention to it and the rest is a police matter,” said Oleg Barannikov, a head coordinator of the Cossack volunteers with the police told Current Time. “To us, values mean the (Christian) Orthodox faith and the family come first.”
Despite the threats, the Russian government and World Cup affiliates say that LGBT+ fans will be welcome and tolerated.
Alexei Smertin, former Chelsea soccer player turned Russian Football Union official and World Cup ambassador said that rainbow paraphernalia is okay to display if it isn’t propagated towards children.
FARE, a Russian organisation dedicated to combating discrimination, has been working with the Russian LGBT Sport Federation to create “Diversity Houses” that will allow LGBT+ and minority fans to come together to watch matches in a safe, inclusive space. They have also released a diversity guide to provide practical and safety information to educate visiting LGBT+ fans.
Piara Powar, director of FARE, stated that the organisation was working with authorities to assure that the locations would be protected.
LGBT+ fans are urged to use caution when travelling throughout Russia, when using dating apps or when showing public displays of affection.
“Football should be a sport, not a war,” sports project manager Klaus Heusslein said in a telephone interview to France24.
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