It’s not hard, footballers – just don’t meet leaders accused of killing dozens of gay men
Over the weekend, one of the world’s best footballers, Mohamed Salah, met Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.
On the surface, it made sense for Egypt’s star striker to agree to accompany Kadyrov to his team’s training ground in Grozny, the capital city of Chechnya, before the World Cup starts on June 14.
After all, the leader’s region is hosting the Liverpool forward and his teammates for the next couple of weeks, so why not chat and pose with him for a few photos?
Because he’s accused of ordering a crackdown which has reportedly led to the deaths of more than 100 gay and bisexual men – that’s why.
According to human rights groups and newspaper Novaya Gazeta, the ‘gay purge’ started in April last year, with queer men rounded up and detained in concentration camp-style prisons where they were tortured and murdered.
Kadyrov and his administration have denied this, repeatedly insisting that there are no gay people in the region, and threatening death if there were.
Over the course of one horrific interview with HBO last July, Kadyrov seemed to repeatedly support violent anti-gay actions, saying that people who kill their gay relatives would have his administration’s backing.
Chechnya’s ruler since 2007 said: “If we have such people here, then I’m telling you officially, their relatives won’t let them be, because of our faith, our mentality, customs and traditions.
“Even if it’s punishable under the law, we would still condone it.”
The leader also said – as he and his regime have done repeatedly – that Chechnya “don’t have any gays,” adding that “if there are any, take them to Canada.”
He continued: “Take them far from us so we don’t have them at home. To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them.
“They are devils. They are for sale. They are not people.”
One can only hope this position on gay men doesn’t sit well with Salah, a 25-year-old who played and scored in a game against Chelsea in November in which both his manager’s laces and captain Jordan Henderson’s armband displayed rainbows.
The goalscorer comes into the tournament standing alongside Lionel Messi, Christiano Ronaldo and Neymar as one of the top superstars of the World Cup.
And just like those giants of the game, he is carrying the hopes of a nation, representing Egypt on the world stage as a brilliant player and role model, just like he did when he played in the Champions League final last month.
So for him to blindly follow Kadyrov into an obvious PR stunt cannot be forgiven for mere ignorance.
His stock is currently at supersonic levels, meaning that he has a duty – as well as the power – to say no when someone accused of conducting a massacre tries to use him for propaganda purposes.
A quick internet search and our own reporting reveals that Kadyrov has a history of attracting footballing legends such as Ronaldinho and Diego Maradona to boost his regime.
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It would have been easy for Salah to do the same, discovering Kadyrov’s anti-gay rhetoric and the inhumane purge for which he is reportedly responsible.
Of course, given Russia’s anti-gay legislation – which has led hate crimes in the country to double since it was instituted in 2013 – it seems like FIFA could have also avoided giving the country its prize jewel.
Instead, Salah gave the Chechen leader more legitimacy in the eyes of the world, in much the same way that Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes to do over the course of his country’s £9 billion tournament.
Sport will inevitably be forced to mix with politics, but its stars should at least take the time to work out if the smiling leader in their hotel lobby has commanded a gay purge or not.