As U.S. and Swiss investigations continue into allegation of bribery by members of FIFA, soccer's governing body, I want to remind people of how homophobic the group has been when it comes to its selection of the next two host countries.
Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022 are horrible choices given both nations' lack of support for gay rights. Russia has passed a series of anti-gay measures and last year Human Rights Watch documented how it is becoming more and more dangerous to be openly gay there.
LGBT people described being beaten, abducted, humiliated, and called "pedophiles" or "perverts," in some cases by homophobic vigilante groups and in others by strangers on the subway, on the street, at nightclubs, at cafes, and in one case, at a job interview.
"Violence experienced by LGBT people in Russia is unmistakably motivated by homophobia, but the authorities deliberately ignore that these are hate crimes and fail to protect victims," said Tanya Cooper, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Russian authorities should effectively prosecute homophobic violence, and the authorities should stop engaging in and tolerating anti-LGBT discrimination."
Qatar, the 2022 site, was a terrible enough choice simply because of the hundreds of migrant workers held in virtual slavery there who have died building new stadiums. It was also a bad choice from an LGBT standpoint since homosexuality is illegal there.
In 2010 after Qatar was chosen, FIFA President Sepp Blatter tried to make light of the ban on gays by saying that any gay fans "should refrain from sexual activity" while in the country; he later apologized. Two years ago, he tried to dodge the issue of gay rights with this logic: "Asked about gay fans and players hoping to attend in 2022, Blatter said: 'What you are speaking about, I do not think it is part of racism, perhaps this is going into ethics and morals.' "
It doesn't matter that FIFA's bylaws speak of protections based on sexual orientation. Its actions are more telling than some text in bylaws. The next two World Cups will be held in countries where it is not safe -- or illegal -- to be openly gay. Russia was able to contain any potential problems for gays at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi because that was a relatively small city with a huge security presence. Things will be different at the World Cup, which will be held in 11 cities, spread out over the country.
Robbie Rogers, the openly gay player for the Los Angeles Galaxy, called out FIFA earlier this year in a column in USA TODAY:
If actions speak louder than words, then the message FIFA sends to gay athletes is painfully clear. Not only don't they have our backs, our lives don't matter. So for any gay soccer player who has hopes of playing for the U.S. National Team at the World Cup, being open about their sexuality could have real consequences when they set foot in countries with laws that could land them in jail. ...
For all the promising gay athletes out there with soccer dreams of their own, FIFA still gives them very good reasons to hide.
While Russia appears to be in no danger of losing the 2018 World Cup, there are rumblings that should the bribery inquiries widen, Qatar might lose the 2022 event to someplace like the U.S. Let's hope so. Gay soccer fans wanting to attend the most important tournament in the sport should not have to go back into the closet.