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13th Jun 2018

LGBT group Pride In Football on Russia, threats and the World Cup

LGBT fans will be travelling to Russia, despite the country's discriminatory laws

Wayne Farry

The relationship between football and the LGBT community has been a fraught one for quite some time

For years, football authorities as good as ignored LGBT supporters, not only their plight but also their basic desire to enjoy the game they love in the same way as all other fans.

Recent years, thankfully, have seen things take a step in the right direction. Through the work of LGBT organisation Stonewall, we have seen the introduction and adoption of rainbow laces by the world’s top players, highlighting the need for equality and acceptance.

We have seen this same initiative adopted and promoted by the world’s biggest football clubs, and such campaigns have seen tangible results, such as a reduction in the number of young people who believe homophobia is acceptable.

While progress is inevitable and encouraging, it is not a straight line and as such, it was as predictable as it was tragic when Russia and Qatar – two openly anti-LGBT nations – were awarded the hosting rights of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups respectively.

That decision was one of the many topics JOE discussed with Di Cunningham, a member of Pride In Football – an alliance of LGBT fan groups throughout the UK – ahead of her departure to Russia later this week.

“I think it was a massive eye roll,” she says regarding the decision to award this year’s World Cup to Russia. “We were desensitised a little because it was back in the Sepp [Blatter] era, so in a way it wasn’t a surprise, but then it was compounded by the selection of Qatar as well. That was really just such a bad message, about not being welcome, not being factored in. For a variety of minorities. It’s a real blow.”

Despite the disenfranchisement at seeing countries unwelcoming of LGBT communities hosting the biggest football competition in the world, Cunningham spoke with enthusiasm about the tournament and meeting other LGBT rights groups from around the world.

“I’m really excited. I think this is an amazing opportunity. I’m excited for the football. It’s going to be a revelation. We’re going to hopefully meet up with other LGBT fans from other countries at the FARE (Football Against Racism in Europe) minorities house. There’s going to be one in St. Petersburg and one in Moscow, and we haven’t got tickets for the Belgium match so we’re hopefully going to watch it there,” she adds.

“One of the exciting things for me is to go to a country I wouldn’t normally go to. I’ve got that opportunity, I’ve got that privilege and [will] hopefully give something back. Some kind of visibility.”

In among the excitement however, there is a touch of caution, exemplified not only by the fact that Cunningham knows of only five other LGBT fans travelling from England to the tournament, but also by the fact that her organisation has received a number of threats ahead of the tournament.

“I’m aware that I need to moderate my behaviour to reflect local cultural norms, but part of my personality is that I’m a gay woman. If we go to Rostov-on-Don (where England will play in the round of 16 if they finish second in their group) I imagine that I will be anxious, but going to Moscow I’ll be cautious,” she says.

“I’ve already started to be cautious. We are getting calls from media, we’ve had some emails from trolls on Twitter and malicious posts on Facebook. We’ve had some emails saying we’re not welcome – one with a guy holding knives.”

At the end of the day however, weighing up all aspects of the tournament and the environment in which it will take place, Cunningham admits that Pride In Football will leave it to fans to make their own minds up on any decision to travel to the tournament

“We don’t want to be encouraging anyone to go. For all of us we need to make our own decisions. Be cautious, be careful.”

For further information on Pride In Football, visit their website or follow them on Twitter and Facebook, and to follow their adventures around Russia, follow Three Lions Pride on Twitter.