LGBTIQ football fans have been warned to be cautious about “publicly displaying their sexuality” at the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Russia, as activists report threats of anti-gay violence at the event.
Joe White, the head of Pride in Football, a UK-based alliance of LGBTIQ football fan groups, told the Mirror the group had been emailed several threats which they’d reported to police.
“We’ve had people say that if they find us they’ll stab us, so it’s been a mixture but they’re being dealt with seriously and those investigations are still ongoing,” he said.
“I could go out and almost go back into the closet and act butch, but that kind of plays exactly into what we are trying to show is an issue.
“We shouldn’t have to feel that we have to behave any differently than we would.
“It’s not like I’m going to be sticking my tongue down people’s throats or anything. I’m going out there for the football and to experience the World Cup.
He said Pride in Football had discussed boycotting the tournament but believe they should attend and allow their visibility to be a powerful statement.
“If it’s safe to do so we’ll be taking rainbow flags, hopefully getting some form of visibility in stadiums to show that LGBT football fans do exist and, just as much as any fan, we’re a valid part of the game,” he said.
“Unless there is someone kind of putting their head above the parapet, it’s very easy for them to say we don’t exist.”
Australian Socceroos fan Joseph Roppolo, who is a former president and current player of gay football club Sydney Rangers FC, told ABC News he’d travelled to the past three World Cups to support Australia but won’t be travelling to Russia.
“I think the biggest fear is around just not being able to be my authentic self,” he said.
“It takes a lot of resilience to get to the point where you (come out), and then to be told that you’re going to a country where you’re encouraged not to hold your partner’s hand is actually a little bit demeaning.
“A country which has laws and vilifies its LGBT community is not the best example of a nation who should be celebrating this global sporting event.”
FIFA’s anti-discrimination advisors, the Football Against Racism in Europe Network (Fare), have produced a diversity guide for travelling LGBTIQ fans, urging them to use discretion when showing public displays of affection and not to participate in any protest action for LGBTIQ rights.
This month an advisory from the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) warned LGBTIQ fans not hold hands or be affectionate towards their partner in public to ensure their safety.
“It is strongly understood and advised that you do not publicly display your sexuality,” the FSF wrote.
“With any trip abroad it is essential to understand your destination’s cultural and ideological beliefs. Whilst often you are able to behave as you would in the UK, certain things must be treated with caution in societies less tolerant than back home.
“Fans travelling to Russia might have a different experience to the situation faced by the Russian LGBT+ community on a day-to- day basis. So whilst we can’t guarantee safety, circumstances could be different during this time when the world’s media will be focused upon the country.”
The FSF advised transgender fans to find someone to attend the toilet with them, or to use a disabled toilet if possible.
“Going to the toilet is a specific concern for trans people going to Russia for the World Cup,” the FSF wrote.
“We advise that you judge the situation on a case by case basis. If you do not feel safe, try and find a fellow fan to accompany you. If there is a disabled toilet and you are alone, that could be the safest option.”
Russia’s anti-gay laws outlaw “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” towards children under the age of 18, and activists say the laws have been used to broadly restrict any public display of homosexuality or support for LGBTIQ rights.
Recent independent research found that anti-gay hate crimes had doubled in Russia since the passing of the law in 2013.
The World Cup will begin on June 14.