Football fans have been warned to stay in the closet at the World Cup and not openly “display” their sexuality.
The World Cup, which is taking place in Russia later this month, has been marred by threats of violence towards LGBT fans from the country’s homophobic ultra-nationalist factions.
The Russian government had assured FIFA that everyone would be safe at the contest – but concerns for safety has led to eleventh-hour appeals for gay fans to hide their sexuality to avoid becoming a target.
Guidance from the UK Government was recently amended to make a warning to fans.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Be on the Ball guide has been quietly updated on May 21, just weeks before the contest, to warn fans that “public attitudes towards LGBT+ people are less tolerant than in the UK.”
The FCO directs fans to a section of the England Fans’ Guide to Russia 2018, published by the Football Supporters’ Federation, which makes further warnings clear.
It states: “With any trip abroad it is essential to understand your destination’s cultural and ideological beliefs.
“Whilst often you are able to behave as you would in the UK, certain things must be treated with caution in societies less tolerant than back home.
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“There is no reason not to come to the World Cup if you are LGBT+. However, although same-sex sexual activity has been decriminalised in Russia since 1993, it is strongly understood and advised that you do not publicly display your sexuality, but this is up to the individual.”
The guide warns that the country’s gay propaganda law “effectively prohibiting any public display of LGBT+ rights” is “generally supported by the population due to the conservative and Christian Orthodox beliefs held by many.”
It urges fans not to fly rainbow flags at matches, saying: “This would contradict the aforementioned ‘propaganda law’ and Russian LGBT+ groups have questioned how safe LGBT+ fans will be who raise the Rainbow flag during matches.”
Meanwhile transgender fans are warned that the “safest option” for using the bathroom would be to go into a disabled toilet, rather than risk violence by using a male or female toilet.
The guide also warns LGBT fans that of “Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, and other Muslim regions within the North Caucasus should be avoided” entirely because of homophobic purges reported in the last year.
It adds: “It’s important to note that whilst no World Cup matches will be played in any regions of the North Caucasus, it is important to understand nonetheless that Russia is a big country and attitudes will vary from city to city.”
The decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively has been criticised by LGBT activists, who fear they will be prohibited from expressing themselves in both countries.
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, while hate crimes against LGBT people have doubled in Russia since it created a law banning gay “propaganda”.
The 2013 legislation, which prohibits “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” towards minors, has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights.