Russia’s lower legislative body unanimously approved a bill that would effectively criminalize homosexuality within the country’s borders, and the legislation is almost guaranteed to earn approval in its upper house and from president Vladimir Putin as well. Along with Qatar’s own law criminalizing homosexuality, Russia’s means that in the next decade, three of the world’s largest sporting events will take place in countries where being gay is against the law.
Russia hosts the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2018 World Cup. Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup. Despite that, both FIFA and the International Olympic Committee have remained largely silent about the laws.
But according to GayStarNews, FIFA may be seeking to suspend Russia and Qatar’s anti-gay laws during the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. That news comes from Chris Basiurski, who chairs Britain’s Gay Footballers Supporter’s Network and spoke to FIFA president Sepp Blatter about the issue. In 2010, FIFA pushed some legal changes in South Africa and for the establishment of “World Cup courts” meant to deal with legal issues related to the tournament, and a similar effort that would include suspension of the anti-gay law could happen in Russia and Qatar.
“They would do something similar. When they are there everyone will be protected due to FIFA’s laws,’ Basiurski told GayStarNews. “This could mean any regulation FIFA brings in might end up breaking the law of the land.”
It’s unclear how that would work. There were, indeed, World Cup courts in South Africa, but it was South Africa’s government that opened them and they still acted with respect to South African law. They existed mainly to expedite an increased load of court cases during the month-long tournament. South Africa did turn some FIFA regulations into law, like a ban against the resale of match tickets. Suspending an existing law without proceeding through the legislative process, however, would be a much different policy.
Reached by email, FIFA didn’t respond directly to questions about whether it was seeking to suspend the law during the month-long event or about how such a suspension would work. FIFA remains “actively engaged in fighting against all kinds of discrimination within football and within society as a whole,” its statement said. “In addition to hosting events such as the FIFA Conference on Racism in Football and establishing every year an Anti-Discrimination Day, FIFA stresses continuously that we must take our efforts to a higher level and lead the fight against discrimination in football.”
Relying only a temporary suspension, if one is even possible, could mean FIFA misses its chance to cause actual change in both countries. FIFA has teams and federations in both Russia and Qatar, and LGBT people and LGBT fans won’t stop facing discrimination when the World Cups end. That’s a reality FIFA acknowledged, though its statement was vague about actual efforts to cause the change it says it wants to see.
“The staging of the FIFA World Cup in new territories can help improve social conditions and make a difference in societies,” the statement said. “There are other cultures and other religions, but in football we have no boundaries. FIFA believes there shall not be any discrimination against any human beings.”