In a move widely seen as stigmatising its Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual population the Russian State Duma yesterday approved Kremlin-backed legislation which will ban “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations,” in a 436-0 vote.
With Russia due to stage the Fifa World Cup in five years’ time, the development raises concerns over the feasibility of LGBT fans attending the competition.
Louise Englefield, campaign director for anti-homophobia group Football v Homophobia, labelled the bill “depressing” in the way it restricts the rights of LGBT people.
“Firstly, it’s terrible news for LGBT Russians and there are plenty of them who are active in sport,” Englefield said to the Morning Star.
“There are a number of LGBT sports groups in Russia and they are going to have to work in this environment. The second issue is how Fifa will deal with this in terms of fans visiting the 2018 World Cup.”
Making refence to the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi, she added: “How far will this legislation go? If you were a gay athlete who took part in Sochi, would he or she be in trouble if they draped themselves in a rainbow flag? What would come of fans who did the same thing? Is that propaganda that is promoting homosexuality according to this legislation?”
Englefield said that her organisation would discuss the issue with supporters before deciding what action to take.
“I personally have been against a boycott, because in some countries it means that we, as Western LGBT people, are simply further isolating LGBT supporters in those countries,” she said.
“Instead we can go there and say: ‘We’re here in solidarity with you.’ We can’t leave LGBT people in those countries on their own, but of course there comes a point when you say: ‘What kind of risks are we prepared to take?’”
Qatar, which maintains a legal position of making homosexuality punishable by death, is due to host the 2022 World Cup and Englefield believes mixed messages are being sent out in terms of their attitude to LGBT football fans.
“We’re in a state of contradiction,” Englefield added. “On the one hand we have Fifa’s anti-discrimination taskforce recommending that homosexuality is included on their list of protected characteristics, but on the other that same organisation has licensed a global event in a country where fans who express their sexuality are at risk of being deported.
“We believe we should have the same rights at everybody else, but clearly Russia is saying that we don’t.”