Naked Politics Blogger
This year, 50% fewer English fans are expected to travel to Russia to see the world cup than did in 2014 to Brazil. A lot of this decline is thought to stem from fears of violence, racism and the precarious political state that currently exists between the two countries.
But Russia also has another dark side which is alienating to many British fans: their stance on LGBT+ rights. MPs and LGBT+ advocacy groups have warned that English fans could be at risk of attack, especially LGBT+ people.
In 2015, FIFA declared that it would require minimum human rights standards for countries hosting the world cup, standards which Russia does not meet, on account of its laws which openly discriminate against LGBT+ citizens. For Russia to then host the world cup is for FIFA to break their promise, and to jeopardise the accessibility and reputation of football worldwide. It is not a positive sign for a world cup to be under-attended, but it can be a political sign. The Russian world cup should not just be avoided, but actively boycotted, because countries that refuse to grant LGBT+ individuals equal rights are failing in their human rights provision, and should not be afforded the privilege that hosting a world cup clearly represents.
In June 2013 Russia introduced the ‘gay-propaganda law’. As part of this, children are not supposed to be exposed to any material which promotes the interests of the LGBT+ community, on the grounds that this will normalise homosexual relationships. Effectively, this makes the promotion of LGBT+ rights and culture in any public sphere a potentially criminal offence.
A survey in 2013 found that 74% of Russians felt that homosexuality should not be accepted by society, and this was up from 60% in 2002. 44% of Russians felt that homosexual acts between consenting adults should be criminalised. These figures all represent increasing intolerance towards gay people in Russian society, and it is clear that the state has fuelled this increase.
Some sources estimate that since the introduction of the 2013 law, the number of hate crimes against LGBT+ people has doubled, indicating not just that Russian societal values are against homosexuality, but that the state moulds these values by instituting a climate of fear and hatred towards homosexuality. Russia has had long-standing problems with violence from far-right communities, including anti-gay violence, and it seems that the law has created a loophole where aggressors feel able to justify and legitimise their violent and and discriminatory action. This, in turn, has promoted anti-gay sentiment and ensured that the Russian state has become the originator of a culture which sees discrimination against LGBT+ peoples as a norm.
It is precisely because the Russian state has created increased anti-gay sentiment that attendance at the world cup should be seriously reflected upon. Russia has always been a socially conservative nation, but it seems that the Russian state has acted in such a way as to replace small amounts of progress with new, hardline regressive attitudes. The increased connection of the state to the Orthodox Church is certainly a factor in this; it seems that Church and state have worked together to fuel intolerance to homosexuality and contravene human rights.
When LGBT+ people are attacked, everyone is attacked. This move back to traditional intolerance suggests that if the state can legitimise discrimination against the LGBT+ community, it can happen to other vulnerable groups too . For LGBT+ people to be discriminated against simply for who they are and who they love marks an existential threat not just to gay people but to everyone. Russia may be the hosts of the world cup, but missing out on that world cup is a small price to pay for the chance to show Russia that not every nation supports these values. Here in the UK, we pride ourselves on being a tolerant nation, but that does not mean that we should tolerate intolerance. We should not be bystanders in this situation and kowtow to a country that does not value human rights. Instead, we should, as English and British people, take a stand and show states that their promotion of hatred is not what ordinary people want.