In 2018, the international quadrennial soccer tournament known as the World Cup will take place in Russia, a country infamous for its laws banning any LGBTQ-related public displays as “gay propaganda.” But despite its anti-gay reputation, Russia’s World Cup 2018 anti-discrimination chief Alexei Smertin has said gay people will feel “safe and comfortable” during the summertime event. Perhaps no one has told him that anti-LGBT hate crimes in Russia have doubled over the last five years?
Last year Piara Powar, the executive director of Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) — the organization monitoring European soccer events for discriminatory behavior — warned gay soccer fans that public displays of affection in Russia could result in a violent response from locals.
Powar pledged to release a guide explaining Russia’s gay cultural climate since passing the 2013 ban against “homopropaganda.” He added the guide would discuss Russia’s underground gay culture and provide advice on how gay soccer fans can stay safe during World Cup 2018.
“The guide will advise gay people to be cautious in any place which is not seen to be welcoming to the LGBT community,” Powar said. “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.”
He also said he was unsure whether Russia would allow rainbow flags in its stadiums and warned that racist far-right elements in Russia could attack visitors of color.
But Russia’s Smertin brushes off such worries, saying, “Of course there are a minority who are quite aggressive against this, but if you are talking about showing feelings, if you are talking about rainbow flags, it won’t be prohibited in Russia during World Cup or afterwards. It definitely won’t be stressful and we let everyone feel comfortable and safe in our country.”
Russia’s hosting of the 2014 Winter Games showed the country is capable of avoiding violent incidents when all eyes are upon it during international sporting events. Researchers say, however, that the country’s ban on “homopropaganda” has caused assaults on LGBTQ Russians to double. Time will tell whether homophobic incidents take place at this year’s World Cup.