June 21, 2018
By Emily Colby
For some fans, traveling to Russia to attend this year’s World Cup is about more than soccer. It is an act of defiance in the name of Russia’s anti-LGBT laws and culture. Earlier this month, the UK Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee released a report that listed several concerns regarding fan safety for those traveling to Russia for the games. In particular, these warnings addressed ethnic minorities and members of the LGBT communities, informing members of these groups of possible of violence and or attacks motivated by racism and homophobia.
Russia is a country steeped in a history of conservative family values, including the rejection of homosexuality. It could be, and has been argued that to Russian nationalists, this value system is seen as a significant part of what distinguishes Russia from the rest of Europe, especially the West. While Russia legalized same-sex interactions in 1993, the actual freedom of openly gay members of Russian society is continually put into question.
In 2013 for instance, a law was passed making the spread of “gay propaganda” illegal to Russian minors. In the years since this law was passed, Russia has seen a doubling of hate crimes directed at the LGBT community. This is according to a 2017 study released by the Center for Independent Social Research.
Specifically in regard to Russian soccer, an anti-discrimination body that works with FIFA, known as Fare Network, found increased homophobic chanting and attacks on homosexuality within soccer stadiums last year, as reported in a recent study.
Before the World Cup began, several LGBT soccer fan groups reported anonymous emails with threats of violence if fans were to attend the games. One such email went so far as to threaten stabbing and included a picture of a knife. This was also one of the sources included in the UK Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee’s statement used to warn soccer fans of possible violence.
Several LGBT fans have decided to go to Russia for the games anyway. For many, it is a choice to express their love for the game while also standing up bravely for what they believe in.