The 2018 World Cup has now kicked off in Russia and with the world watching, there is even greater attention given to the country's treatment of LGBT people.
The 2018 World Cup has now officially begun and over the next month, all eyes will be on Russia. The publicity that comes with hosting such a high-profile, global event helps shine a light on the horrific treatment of Russian LGBT people – particularly in Chechnya.
It’s been over a year since the crushing news emerged of gay and bi men being rounded up by authorities in Chechnya and detained in unofficial prisons, tortured and killed. Hundreds of LGBT people have been affected and no one, including Chechnyan leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, have been held to account for these crimes. Despite continued pressure, no proper investigations have taken place and the crisis continues.
Svetlana Zahkharova, communications manager of the Russian LGBT Network, which seeks to give voice to the community and offer support, told us:
‘Many LGBT people in Russia remain invisible in a society for fear of violence. Big cities are somewhat safer for LGBT people, small cities are often not safe at all. There, people are attacked for even looking like they might be LGBT. Unfortunately, levels of violence against LGBT people are high. Hate crime and discrimination are both on the rise. Research conducted by the Russian LGBT Network shows that most LGBT people will not go to the police because they mistrust them, with good reason. People who’ve sought help have often been humiliated by state officials. Foreign LGBT people visiting Russia should be aware of this.’
We want to ensure all fans and visitors attending the World Cup are safe
We want to ensure all fans and visitors attending the World Cup are safe. Any LGBT fans or visitors traveling to Russia should follow the most recent Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) travel guidance.
We’re aware some fans will want to show solidarity with LGBT people in Russia, but we would strongly recommend people be vigilant. What's happened to O. Davrius and his partner on the streets of St. Petersburg is a devastating example of just how serious the situation is. We, along with many others, will be watching to see how FIFA responds to this and any instances of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic behaviour that happens both on and off the pitch.
International sporting events like the World Cup offer an opportunity to unite people and promote positive social change. However, as we know from Sochi little change was achieved as the result of the protests that took place throughout the Olympics.
If you love sport and want to stand up for equality, you can raise awareness about what’s happening, and support the work of local activists and network groups like the Russian LGBT network. We need people to stand up as allies in their own communities, so that sport can be everyone’s game both here and abroad.
International sporting events like the World Cup offer an opportunity to unite people and promote positive social change.
Let’s also remember that after the last match has been played and the media spotlight dimmed, life goes on for LGBT people in Russia. It’s vital we do not forget their struggle and continue to stand in solidarity with them.