There is little doubt that the LGBT community still faces both discrimination and bigotry and many areas of the globe. Even in the United States, thought to be among the most accepting nations in the world for all minorities, it can be difficult to get Gay Marriage legally recognized, or to receive reproductive health services if you are gay. However, in some areas of the globe, revealing your sexuality is still more than a political and equal rights issue, it is a life-or-death discussion, that centers around- not the freedoms of- but the safety of those that are openly gay. Two such countries, where the LGBT community must still fear for its life are Russia and Qatar. In the weeks leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the Russian government passed legislation to outlaw ‘homophobic propaganda’ (Luhn, A., 2013). Not unsimilarly, in Qatar homosexuality remains illegal, with harsh sentencing for those caught in the act of sodomy. In spite of these clearly dangerous sets of standards for the LGBT community, The Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has awarded the 2018 and 2022 football World Cup events to Russia and Qatar, with a seeming disregard for both player and fan safety. More specifically, Robbie Rogers, a homosexual football player, defender for Los Angeles Galaxy team, recently criticized FIFA for allowing Russia and Qatar to host the events, insisting that “it’s insane” that FIFA “would put a tournament somewhere where someone would be in danger” (Branch, 2014). This debate, and the very real dangers that Robbie Rogers mentions, raise a question about whether or not mega-events, like the Olympics, and World Cup, should be allowed to take place in countries where violent discrimination is known to occur. If so, how can fans and players safety be assured if they elect to participate in these global events.
It is first and foremost important to understand the legal structure of anti-homosexuality laws in Russia and Qatar, and the resulting climate for homosexuals in each country. Homosexuality was technically decriminalized in Russia in the 1990s, however simply changing the law did not undo years of violent intolerance in the nation (Friedman, M., 2015). Futher, in 2013, a law that blocked “homosexual propaganda” intended to prevent the promotion of elicit/sexual relationships between same-sex minors. While this was only publishable to those found guilty of publishing promotional materials, the greater issues is that it gave new life to Russian intolerance, again placing the LGBT community and Russian governmental powers on opposite sides of an invisible line. As a result, cases of violence again homosexuals rose significantly throughout the country (Lhun, A., 2013) . According to Lhun, a recent poll of Russian citizens found that at least 43% found homosexuality to fall under the description of “licentiousness” and 35% still believed that it was a mental health issue or a psychological disorder (2013). Correspondingly the United States has experienced a significant increase in the number of applications for Russian immigrants seeking Asylum, with many describing their need for political asylum as being directly related to the nation’s change-in-position, with regard to the LGBT community, and the resulting fear of reprisal, or public violence (Friedman,M., 2015).
Sadly, as disturbing the conditions in Russia are for members of the LGBT community, they are even more violent, and dangerous for homosexuals in Qatar. Qatar has not only outlawed the public endorsement of homosexuality, but the act of homosexual contact, or as it is legally described, sodomy, without exclusion. While the law, Penal Code Articles 201, was actually intended for implementation against Qatari citizen’s only, there are multiple reports of the law being enforced, and punishment being executed among non-citizens as well .The most current version of the law, amended in 2004, as article 296 of the Penal Code, states that those found guilty of sodomy can be imprisoned for up to seven years, or a life term if one of the parties is under the age of 16. Further, Sharia law, which is considered a lawful penal code in Qatar, calls for Muslims to be put to death in they are married and committing acts of homosexuality and flogged if unmarried and committing homosexual activities ( Kordunsky, A., 2013). Given these, very physical and very dangerous possible ramifications for homosexuals traveling in the Russian or Qatri nations, how can international mega-events, like the word cup be safely hosted in such locations.
This has become a major topic of debate in both the media, and in circles concerned with the protection of LGBT rights, in fact, multiple petitions have been started via Change.Org to dismiss Russia and Qatar as hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World cup, and to relocate the Cup to more tolerant locations. Similarly, activists around the globe have spoken out against FIFA representative Sepp Blatter’s comment that those fans planning to attend the World Cup in Qatar should simply “refrain from sexual activity” (BBC, 2010), for the duration of their stay in Qatar. It is the very issue that this comment was made in jest, when people are dying, that makes it so serious. John Amaechi, a high-profile gay athlete spoke out on the issue saying” “It's not about people having sex in public and being sanctioned for it, it's the fact that Qatar was one of 79 countries to sanction executing gays at the United Nations. One of the first things you notice is that it would actually be an insult to year seven students to say that their reactions, the giggling of grown men, sports reporters and members of FIFA, on this issue, when asked a perfectly simple and reasonable question given the worries about Qatar, that the whole room burst into laughter.” It is an issue which, because it concerns real safety, should be taken seriously and yet, it seems neither FIFA, nor the hosting countries are prepared to offer real answers, or solutions.
While FIFA’s governing body claims to have “zero tolerance for discrimination” their actions seem to speak louder than their words. While they formally asked Russia to clarify their anit-gay laws, Russia has not publically responded to that request and rather than giving concrete proof that the LGBT community can enjoy safe travel in Russia during the 2018 games, FIFA has released a very soft and impossible to enforce statement saying that “Russia has committed to provide all visitors and fans with a warm welcome and ensure their safety” during the tournament, and further that FIFA is simply “trust”ing that Russian will “deliver on this promise” (CBS Sports 2013). Similarly, in leaders of Qatar have promised that the nation will come up with “creative solutions” to the issue of the anti-LGBT laws and the influx of potentially homosexual visitors into the country during the tournament. However, in a statement of public intolerance, he has also stated that the nation will not create “this impression, illusion that we don’t care about our tradition and our ethical values We are studying all these issues. We can adapt, we can be creative to have people coming and enjoying the games without losing the essence of our culture and respecting the preference of the people coming here. I think there is a lot we can do” (Waldron, T., 2014). This statement generally shows an unwillingness to commit to acceptance and safety for the LGBT community during the games, and does not provide members of the community interested in traveling to the region any reassurance. Further, more recent reports indicate that Qatari officials are actually telling LGBT fans and players to avoid traveling to the nation during the games, continuing to offer no reassurances.
The question then, remains, should countries like Russia and Qatar, with marked amounts of minority violence, bigotry, and even anti laws be allowed to house mega-events that draw international travel? The answer, traditionally has been yes. Brazil hosted the World Cup in 2014, despite its anti-alcohol laws, and allowed alcohol to be sold on site during the event as a concession to FIFA’s needs, through a specialized and temporary law (BBC, 2012). Perhaps more similarly, Russia successfully hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics despite their anti-LGBTQ atmosphere without notable incident, in spite of the resulting public protests (Crary, 2014). Even in Qatar, known for its anti-LGBT violence, known homosexual performers, like George Micheal, have successful entered the country and performed without violence, and with great public praise (Mr.Q, 2008). These cases demonstrate that even in typically strict or intolerant nations, offensive or contradictory laws can be set aside for major events.
However, LGBT travelers should likewise be aware that they do so at their own risk. The State Department warned homosexual Americans against traveling to Russia for the 2014 Olympics, stating that there is real concern about violence and asking travelers to “remain attentive regarding their personal security” while abroad, in non-tolerant nations (Brydum, 2014). Further, Qatar has already begun a campaign asking visitors to dress appropriately adopting the dress style of the Muslim culture, emblazoned with the slogan “If you are in Qatar, you are one of us” (OnIslam, 2014). These facts raise serious concerns about the safety and security of those traveling, who identify as gay, and it should be assumed that those traveling in anti-gay regions continue to do so at their own risk, and should act, publically with discretion, and caution, in order to avoid the potential risks associated with their sexuality.
There is no denying that members of the LGBTQ minority face discrimination, bigotry, and violence in many areas of the globe, however two of the areas where this is most extreme are Qatar and Russia. In these two countries, the homosexual community still faces the very real threat of death, imprisonment or other personal harm. In spite of this danger, FIFA has readily accepted both countries bids to host upcoming World Cup Events, and has, to date, done little to enforce policies for safety and equality in those countries while travelers are visiting the nation for the games. As a result, a debate has been raised about the safety of travelers who are part of the homosexual minority who are interested in attending those events, and of the discretion and decision making on the part of FIFA for allowing such countries to stand as host of these international mega-events. Unfortunately, it seems clear, at least for now, that it is acceptable for countries with unpopular and even blatantly discriminatory views, to host events, and that these events have been successfully accomplished, in spite of these policies on numerous occasions. However, for those LGBT fans wishing to attend the FIFA events in 2018, and 2022, the US State Department and other agencies would continue to advise caution.
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