12 years of FvH campaigning for inclusive FIFA Men’s World Cups – the fight goes on

Editorial credit: rarrarorro / Shutterstock.com
Editorial credit: rarrarorro / Shutterstock.com

Just a few months after Football v Homophobia was launched back in 2010, the guardians of the global game bestowed the greatest honour it has to give – hosting a men’s World Cup finals – upon two countries where LGBTIQ+ people are not able to live openly as themselves.
 
Even before FIFA’s decision to hand the 2018 tournament to Russia, attempts had been made to introduce an anti-gay ‘propaganda’ law in the country; this was eventually enacted in 2013.
 
The number of recorded hate crimes doubled, and citizens who are lesbian, gay, bi and trans faced an increased threat of violence and abuse, particularly in Chechnya where reports began to emerge in 2017 of a ‘gay purge’.
 
But when the tournament kicked off, outside of football’s community of queer people and allies, little was said within the sport about these abuses.
 
The Russian national team’s slogan for their home World Cup was ‘Play With an Open Heart’ – and courageous LGBTQ+ Russians were able to enjoy some visibility in major cities in that summer of 2018.
 
The Football v Homophobia Campaign Director travelled to Moscow in 2017 to a meeting of LGBTIQ+ leaders to listen to their concerns and to try and imagine ways in which the World Cup could benefit the community. With legal precedence for the ban of a Pride House (An LGBTIQ+ inclusive space) at the World Cup, FvH was proud to support the Diversity House project, led by the Fare network and backed by FIFA, which became a valued community space in Moscow for locals and visitors, and a stage for Russian LGBTIQ+ sports leaders.
 
Yet four years on, football seems to have all but forgotten them. Amid increased mobilisation for Putin’s war in Ukraine – and the recent passing of an even stricter anti-gay ‘propaganda’ law – LGBTIQ+ Russians have been leaving the country in large numbers.
 
Both before and after the sportswashing, football didn’t do enough at the last World Cup to stand up to LGBTIQ+phobia.
 
And so to Qatar 2022, where the challenge has been even greater across the whole spectrum of human rights.
 
Progress has been made, such as on the issue of migrant labour, although it is clear that many workers still face appalling conditions. The #PayUpFIFA message is of paramount importance – a compensation fund must be set up and a migrant workers’ centre in Doha delivered.
 
As for a Diversity House, there will be no such space where LGBTIQ+ locals and visitors can congregate safely at this World Cup in Qatar.
 
LGBTIQ+ people of the host nation have no visibility at all in a country where homosexuality is illegal and where all LGBTIQ+ people face the risk of arrest, abuse, and being funnelled by the state towards so-called ‘conversion therapy’, as documented in a recent HRW report.
 
After Russia 2018, FvH joined 15 other global inclusion organisations and campaigns to form the LGBTIQ+ Human Rights Sports Coalition.
 
The Coalition has been in lengthy dialogue with both the FIFA and the Supreme Committee, the tournament organisers, laying out Eight Measures for Action that if undertaken, would have demonstrated a significant commitment to making the World Cup and wider Qatari society more welcoming for all LGBTIQ+ people.
 
Despite talk of an “enabling law” that would temporarily relax some of the most stringent legislations – an incremental development, if unsatisfactory – scant detail has been provided as to what this would mean in practice.
 
Therefore, in the view of the Coalition, none of the Eight Measures have been adequately met. This is a source of great disappointment to Football v Homophobia – but there are reasons for optimism too.
 
The activism of Dr Nasser Mohamed, the only publicly out LGBTIQ+ Qatari, continues to be a beacon of hope for many across the region. FvH has been amplifying Dr Mohamed’s voice and where possible, the voices of other queer people in Qatar who must remain anonymous for their own safety.

Dr Nas’ recently launched Alwan Foundation aims to collect evidence-based data to accurately reflect the circumstance and living conditions of LGBTIQ+ people in different countries across the Gulf as a first step in meeting the needs of these communities.

Many of you will be boycotting the World Cup in some shape or form. For some groups, such as our friends at QFF, this decision has been made after considerable efforts to engage in constructive dialogue on inclusion. Whether you’re boycotting the World Cup or watching the tournament we would encourage the football family to make a donation to the Alwan Foundation here.
 
You can also show support for Proud Maroons, an LGBTIQ+ and allies fans group that will mobilise via social media when the Qatar national team plays at the World Cup.
 
Another campaign you may want to get involved with is ‘No Pride Without All’ which is a message being sent to FIFA by Three Lions Pride, The Rainbow Wall and groups within the Pride in Football family.
 
Compared to Russia 2018, greater awareness is now being raised throughout football of the damaging impact of anti-LGBTIQ+ discrimination and why everyone in the game shares a responsibility to challenge this.
 
Back in 2010, LGBTIQ+ human rights were barely considered by FIFA, if at all. 12 years later, lesbian, gay, bi and trans people are at least being acknowledged in the context of the world’s biggest sporting event.

We need to ensure that this continues towards the North American 2026 World Cup which sees US, Mexico and Canada as hosts. Let’s not forget the recent anti-LGBTIQ+ legislation in the US or the ubiquitous ‘Puto’ chant in Mexican football, which LGBTIQ+ groups have been working so hard to challenge.

We will continue our work with LGBTIQ+ stakeholders in the Americas, such as Athlete Ally, You Can Play, ISC, Didesex and ANADE to ensure LGBTIQ+ people feel they have a place in the 2026 tournament.
 
The Football v Homophobia commitment is to make a difference by working together. However you’re approaching this men’s World Cup, be sure to stand with LGBTIQ+ communities and allies everywhere to fight for a future when we all feel truly welcome within the game we love.