LGBT football fans have been warned that if they attend the World Cup in Russia next year, they may put themselves at risk of being attacked.
The campaign group, Fare is advising gay people to be cautious in any place which is not seen to be welcoming to the LGBT community.”
The FCO has given its own cautionary advice to fans travelling to the country, which has legislation banning so-called “gay propaganda.”
Many LGBT+ people enjoy Moscow without harassment and the West often likes to over-egg human rights abuses against gay people in larger cities in Russia. Nonetheless, social and political attitudes towards LGBT+ people there are often hostile and caution is well-advised, particularly in less cosmopolitan areas.
Out News Global spoke to two gay football fans following the concerns raised by the Foreign Office, to get their take on the situation.
Brian Stokes, 25, is currently the Commercial Manager of non-league side AFC Mansfield and the former secretary of York Pride. He says he won’t be making the trip over to Russia next year.
“It’s a shame that I don’t feel Russia is safe for me to go,” says Brian. Despite having never attended a World Cup tournament, he frequently travels over to Europe for matches and also attended the Euro 2016 games.
Should FIFA, therefore, avoid hosting the World Cup in countries where there are safety concerns for fans and players? “You can’t exclude a huge chunk of the world from hosting major sporting events,” argues Brian. So why does he think Russia in particular isn’t suitable to host the World Cup? He believes there are several reasons, including the current “major doping scandal” and “Russian war crimes in Syria”.
Many fans are calling for a boycott of the games, in solidarity of LGBT players and fans; is this the right way forward? “Boycotts should generally be avoided, but I see this as a truly exceptional circumstance.”
In fact, earlier this year Brian took his concerns about the Russian World Cup to the youth wing of the Liberal Democrats, the Youth Liberals. His policy proposal calling for a boycott did not pass.
Another gay fan is attending the World Cup in Russia, who we have called Benjamin, did not wish to use his real name through fear of being identified. “I’d worry that I’d end up at the border control or my hotel, and they’d discover my sexuality by doing a background check.”
“You can never be too careful, especially in Russia, so that’s why I’m locking all my open social media accounts a few months before I fly over.”
Does Benjamin worry about being attacked during his time in Russia? “I’d say no, because I’m going with a group of my straight mates, so I doubt anyone would guess I’m gay.”
Given that a specific concern raised by the Foreign Office was concerning public displays of affection, does Benjamin think that same-sex couples in particular may be deterred from going?
He says: “To be honest, I wouldn’t feel comfortable holding my partner’s hand in Britain, never mind in Russia. We could be attacked anywhere.”
Benjamin’s long-term partner will not be attending the World Cup with him, due to concerns over safety.
When asked if he was against a boycott, Benjamin said that this would not change Russia’s attitude towards LGBT people. “The Russians would be like “Oh good, they’re [LGBT people] not coming over.” So that’s not going to change the law or attitudes.”
“At the end of the day, this is about football. I think we’re all getting carried away by politics and instead should focus on the game itself.”
The 21st FIIFA World Cup will kick off on 14th June, against a backdrop of controversial politics.