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Comment: Whoever leads FIFA, it should challenge homophobia and support human rights

Tom Hayes May 29, 2015

Labour councillor Tom Hayes writes for PinkNews on the opportunity of corporate football backers to support LGBT rights amid the FIFA corruption scandal.

This week seven top football officials were indicted for alleged corruption involving $150 million in bribes and kickbacks since 1991. These tens of millions of dollars, over a quarter of a century, have allegedly been funnelled to key decision-makers at FIFA, football’s world governing body, to influence the outcome of bids to stage tournaments such as the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

The indictments by American and Swiss authorities have rightly been grabbing headlines worldwide. So concerned are the major corporate sponsors of FIFA that some have shown a willingness to get tougher.

We need the spotlight currently being shone onto FIFA to be broadened to cover other scandals about the 2022 World Cup (and indeed, the 2018 World Cup in Russia, whose terrible record on LGBT issues is well-known) to look at broader human rights. We need the big backers of world football to take the lead in calling on FIFA both to clean up its act and deal with these human rights scandals.

Put bluntly, the decision to hold a World Cup in Qatar – a country where it is illegal to be gay – is utterly disgraceful. Qatar implements so-called ‘detention testing’, and lashes and imprisons ‘detected’ gay people.

FIFA isn’t challenging the Qatari authorities to drop its discrimination. Not only is this bad for the LGBT community in Qatar, who could see the outside world’s calls for their equality as life-giving. It’s bad for the LGBT broadcasters, fans, and footballers descending on Qatar who will decide to close down their sexual orientation.

FIFA hasn’t just failed to speak inconvenient truths to power; it has been led by somebody who tells LGBT fans eager to enjoy the beautiful game in Qatar to keep a low profile. By accepting the host’s view that LGBT people are second-class at best, FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, has been undermining his organisation’s mission to ‘build a better future for all’ and ‘unite and inspire the world’.

Openly gay footballer Robbie Rogers is clear that LGBT players will face great difficulty ‘being open about their sexuality’ as it ‘could have real consequences when they set foot in countries with laws that could land them in jail.’ With the choice of host country likely to rob world football of positive role models, we need key actors to do more than shrug their shoulders at our legitimate complaints.

Another scandal that has been costing lives is being hidden in the press statements of FIFA and the corporate backers. The International Trade Union Confederation has reported that 1,200 World Cup workers from Nepal and India have died in Qatar since 2010, and estimates that 4,000 workers could die before the whistle is blown to kick off the 2022 Games.

In February, I wrote to the multinational backers of FIFA as a gay man and football fan to ask them to speak out against the anti-human rights policies of Qatar and the 2018 World Cup host Russia. It has been more than three months since writing, and I am yet to even get an acknowledgement from corporate sponsors Adidas, Visa, Coca Cola, or McDonalds. The complete silence from the sponsors on human rights has been deafening, especially compared to the speed in which they expressed their concerns as the FBI started making arrests.

It’s bad business for these brands to be associated with FIFA in the light of its headline grabbing corruption scandal. We all have the individual power to make it terrible business for these companies to associate with host countries refusing to improve their human rights record.

Whether you do that boycotting their goods and services, writing to their head offices, or mobilising with demos, is entirely up to you. They will all help to make an impression on the corporate backers to use their leeway with FIFA and the host countries. But, do something, for those who are lonely and isolated, who deserve to have their bravery honouring, and who will see these gestures of solidarity as the lifelines they are.

Tom Hayes is the LGBT Labour National Secretary and a Labour Oxford City Councillor. He tweets at @CllrTomHayes

As with all comment articles, the views expressed may not necessarily reflect those of PinkNews. 

More: FIFA, Qatar, world cup

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