This week, I’ve taken the time to read a little more about the unfortunate homophobic situation developing in Russia. Without getting into too many details, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see recent legislative moves in the country begin to spiral into a stripping of LGBT rights over the next few months.
Though I’ve never been to Russia, it is high on my travel list for a very specific reason: it is hosting the 2018 World Cup. It’s a dream of mine to be able to see many World Cup tournaments. As an added benefit, I’d take the time to tour the lovely host countries so graciously chosen by an international panel.
Something’s not quite right with that sentence, is it?
Football, or soccer, is without a doubt the world’s most popular sport and creates a tremendous stage every four years, the World Cup. Billions watch the tournament around the world, and the ability to use this event as a vehicle to deliver a social message is unprecedented.
It’s a chance for a nation to showcase its virtues to the world. It’s a chance for a nation to exhibit their culture, it’s a chance for a nation to show they are civilized, and an active part of the global community.
It’s a chance that Russia currently does not deserve.
With the 2018 World Cup set to be staged in Russia, FIFA should take the opportunity to right its recent off the field mistakes. It’s time for FIFA to pressure Russia and Qatar into guaranteeing equal human rights to homosexual athletes and spectators expected to visit the countries for the World Cup.
FIFA has generally taken advantage of the sport’s global audience, creating the mildly successful “Kick It Out” campaign against racism. But FIFA also needs to consider its leadership, and start by firing, recalling, impeaching, or doing whatever it needs to do to remove its current president Sepp Blatter from the helm.
Amongst other gems counterproductive to leading an organization that should care about human rights on a global scale, Sepp Blatter’s been quoted as recommending that:
- Homosexual fans “refrain from any sexual activities” to evade Qatar’s laws prohibiting homosexuality.
- Female football can gain more fans if players “wear tighter shorts and low cut shirts.”
- On-field racism should be concluded with a ‘handshake’.
What FIFA really has in its arsenal is significant soft power; which requires strong and focused leadership. Only without Sepp Blatter as President can FIFA really begin to seriously focus its attention on Russia and Qatar.
And though FIFA has no sanctions that can directly keep Vladimir Putin or Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani up at night, they can direct the gaze of the public eye. And as we saw in Brazil this summer, the spotlight that a FIFA international tournament brings can go a long way to pressuring politicians into improving real conditions.
And FIFA cannot forget that.