The recent increase of England flags stuck to cars and draping from pub windows and houses across the country can mean one of two things, either British National Party support has increased or a certain football related tournament is beginning.

Today sees the start of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, but before you attach that St George flag to the car door, or get out the red and white face paints, check the PinkNews.co.uk Gay World Cup Guide to find out who the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community should be supporting.

Group A

Group A represents a mixture of legislation towards gay people. While homosexuality is legal in Costa Rica, Germany, Poland and Ecuador, only the German gays can have their relationship recognised and along with Ecuadorians, can be guaranteed protection in the workplace. However the gay scene in Costa Rica and Ecuador is more popular than their European opponents

In a gay rights style tournament, Poland would lose in this group after recent bans of gay organisations and closures of gay bars, as well as anti gay sentiment from the ruling Justice and Law Party. Germany would top the group with widely tolerant gay viewpoints, followed by Ecuador, which can boast a lively gay destination in the city of Quito. Costa Rica would miss out on qualification in third place, let down by regular church protests against homosexuality.

Group B

In Group B England and Sweden would be considered the top countries for gay rights, Sweden provides a strong challenge to the three lions having legalised homosexuality in 1944, before 1967 in the UK, and has provided partnership rights to gay couples since 1995, compared to 2005 here.

However, Sven’s men can boast a team of gay icons such as David Beckham, and Steven Gerrard, as well as more clubs, bars, and organisations for the gay community.

Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago struggle to compete with gay rights, as the South Americans have previously called homosexuality one of the countries biggest sins along with communism. Homosexuality is not mentioned in any of Paraguay’s laws, except in reference to offences against minors. A recent attempt to introduce civil partnerships helps them finish above Trinidad and Tobago where the Immigration Act bans gay people from entering the country, and homosexual activity carries 20 year prison sentence.

Group C

The Netherlands are gay favourites in Group C, Amsterdam regularly attracts gay tourists and was the first country to allow gay couples to marry, as well as guaranteeing adoption and anti discrimination laws.

Argentina will have to settle for second place but can be proud of a strong gay scene in Buenos Aires as well as civil union and anti discrimination laws

The Ivory Coast, surprising for an African country, can play for pride after legalising homosexuality, however gay people are not protected from discrimination.

The Ivorians beat Serbia and Montenegro who despite having legalised homosexuality in 1994, lag behind due to a lack of anti discrimination laws and medical textbooks which still classify homosexuality as a disease.

Group D

Portugal will be football favourites in Group D, but fans will remember manager Luiz Felipe Scolari rejected the England job, and previously said he would kick any gay footballers out of his team.

But the country is saved by a vibrant gay scene and registered unions for same sex couples, however a lack of discrimination laws sees them fall behind Mexico, who for a Catholic country, is seen as quite tolerant towards LGBT people. Homosexuality is legal and anti discrimination laws exist.

Angola sits in third place having legalised homosexuality, but does not provide anti discrimination laws.

Last place is saved for Iran, where homosexuality is illegal under Sharia law and around 3000 gay men have allegedly been executed in the country since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Group E

In Group E the USA only just rises above the Czech Republic, Italy, and Ghana for the gay friendly crown.

Many US states provide gay rights such as marriage, adoption, teaching in schools, and protection against discrimination, but politicians often pave to the Christian Right view that homosexuality is a sin.

The Czech Republic comes second, buoyed by civil unions laws, the legalisation of homosexuality and a good gay scene in Prague, but may struggle with their President’s open opposition.

Italy is let down by its embarrassing Vatican team-mate, who constantly speaks out against the gay community, but new Prime Minister Romano Prodi, has promised civil partnership laws and host many LGBT members in his coalition.

Ghana, where homosexuality is illegal. is comfortably last,

Group F

Brazil may well win the football and gay rights battle of Group F. Homosexuality has been legal since 1823, except in the armed forces, and civil unions are even allowed in some areas. Last year Sao Paulo held a 2 million strong gay pride festival.

Croatia has a good chance of second place if it can overcome skinheads and nationalists, due to partnership and anti discrimination laws, and regular gay pride’s in Zagreb.

While popular with gay travellers and promising protection from discrimination, same sex rights depend on where in Australia you go, and that may cause a gay struggle in this group. While some states provide pension benefits for same sex couples, the Australian Capital territory’s recent attempt to pass a Civil Unions Bill, is being threatened by the Federal Government.

However, the recent Sydney Gay Pride helps the Aussies finish ahead of Japan where despite a big gay community in Japan, allowed by the law, gays are not permitted in the army and the government has previously rejected gay asylum seekers.

Group G

France is unrivalled on gay rights in Group G, offering joint same sex parental rights, anti discrimination laws and civil unions, as well as a bustling gay scene in Paris.

Switzerland may provide a challenge having considered civil partnerships last year and protecting gay people from discrimination, plus the increasingly attractive capital Zurich.

The traditionally conservative country will find its main opponents are South Korea, where despite homosexuality being on a list of “socially unacceptable sexual acts” until April, 2004, rrecent laws have allowed gay recruits to serve in the army, and considered transsexual identity laws.

Togo comes last due to a 3 year prison sentence for homosexuality and a lack of laws protecting gay people.

Group H

Spain would be the gay winner of group H without much competition. It legalised homosexuality as long ago as 1822, and accepts gay marriage. There are laws to combat homophobia, and transsexual identity laws.

By way of contrast, homosexuality is a crime punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. Although the country has an underground gay scene, strict Islamic laws ensure that this is kept discreet.

The Ukraine would be the runner up in the group, legalising homosexuality in 1991. There is no anti-discrimination law in the country, and no plans to introduce gay marriage, though the president, Viktor Yushchenko supports gay rights.

Although there’s a thriving gay scene in Kiev, outside the city people are much more conservative, and can be homophobic.

Tunisia is largely tolerant of gay people, though homosexuality is officially illegal and punishable by up to three years imprisonment. In a recent court case transgenderism was ruled a breach of Islamic law, and in 1996 a gay Tunisian was granted asylum in the US because of the discrimination he had received and the danger that he would have been in on his return. However, in the larger cities there is a lively scene, with police tolerance of gay cinemas, massage parlours and clubs.

Final Rounds

So who is going to be the gay world cup winner? We put the winners of each group into the play offs. Germany lost to Spain, and The Netherlands came out a clear winner against Brazil. It was a tight contest between France and England, but France already having an anti discrimination law edged ahead, putting England out of the cup (again). Another close match between Portugal and the USA, but in the end America gave in too much to the Christian right, confused the team by playing mixed tactics with talk of a Senate gay marriage ban, and Portugal, despite having a football manager who said he wouldn’t have a gay in his team, went through.

In the quarter final Spain beat Portugal, no surprises there, and The Netherlands beat France, their tolerance proving too good on the day.

So it was a tense final between Spain and The Netherlands. Spain started strongly with an early legalisation of homosexuality, but The Netherlands fought back strongly with gay marriage and legalised brothels.

It was a tightly fought thing, but for their pioneering efforts in gay rights, and their shining example of tolerance that it a positive message to us all, The Netherlands lifted the trophy and went back to their beer and chips with mayonnaise triumphant!