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FIFA World Cup in Russia Could Be Dangerous for Gays, Group Warns

A world coming together. The meeting of cultures. A sporting competition that unites citizens from across the globe under the love of soccer and the celebration of friendly rivalries. Every four years the FIFA World Cup offers a chance for millions around the globe to harmonize through the magic of sport.

Or does it?

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Some are worried that the 2018 competition, to be hosted by Russia, might not provide the same wonderful experience for all types of fans. For members of the LGBT community and people of color, watchdog groups are indicating that attending the World Cup in Russia could even be dangerous.

The activist group Football Against Racism in Europe (Fare) recently announced that they would be issuing a guide for fans coming to Russia to witness the spectacle. Executive director Piara Powar told the Guardian that gay people, and black and ethnic fans would need to take extreme caution.

“The guide will advise gay people to be cautious in any place which is not seen to be welcoming to the LGBT community. The same message is there for black and ethnic minority fans – do go to the World Cup but be cautious,” he 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.”

Global Citizen campaigns on the United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Reducing inequalities, including eliminating discrimination on the grounds of race or sexual orientation, is goal number 13. You can join us by taking action here.

Indeed, Russia has a storied history of persecution against the LGBT community. Though bans on homosexuality were dropped in 1993, same-sex couples and LGBT individuals continue to face forms of legal and social discrimination. Russia’s president Vladimir Putin recently said in an interview that he viewed it as his “duty” to stop gay people from marrying.

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In 2012 Russia introduced a law against “propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations” that was followed by an uptick in violence against the LGBT community.

Fare is concerned that anti-gay sentiment could make attending the World Cup dangerous for LGBT men and women, and advise that they take precautions to avoid being attacked.

Homophobia within the international soccer community has been an issue over the last few years. FIFA has doled out numerous fines and punishments for acts of intolerance by fans at large matches, but even as recently as this summer homophobic slurs and chants have tainted what should have been a joyous occasion for all.

As a uniquely international sport, soccer has also been plagued by racism and racist incidents for quite some time. Black players in Europe have frequently faced discriminatory chants, and even violence from opposing fans.

In 2013 FIFA formed an anti-racism task force designed with combating racism in the sport. But that campaign only lasted until 2016, when FIFA declared that its temporary mission had been fulfilled and disbanded it.

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The Guardian reported that while no political messaging is allowed to be displayed at any matches during the World Cup, FIFA has declined to rule on whether or not rainbow flags would be allowed to be waived by fans wanting to stand up against homophobia.

On Friday, one final draw for the tournament will determine which teams square off against each other. As fans across the world wait eagerly, members of discriminated communities may also be waiting to see if visiting Russia for the event will even be worth it.