English LGBT football fans planning to attend next month’s World Cup in Russia have reportedly been threatened with violence.
According to the Mirror, Pride In Football – an alliance of LGBT football fan groups – has received emails from Russian hooligans who threatened to target LGBT visitors.
“We’ve had people say that if they find us they’ll stab us, so it’s been a mixture but they’re being dealt with seriously and those investigations are still ongoing,” Joe White, Pride in Football’s campaign leader, told the newspaper.
Despite this, White insisted that he would not be going back into the closet while in Russia. “If it’s safe to do so we’ll be taking rainbow flags, hopefully getting some form of visibility in stadiums to show that LGBT football fans do exist and, just as much as any fan, we’re a valid part of the game,” he said.
“Unless there is someone kind of putting their head above the parapet, it’s very easy for them to say we don’t exist,” White added.
Under Russia’s so called gay-propaganda law, it is effectively illegal to display signs representing the LGBT community or to show same-sex affection in public. The law has not only been used to ban Pride events and restrict LGBT websites, but has also fueled anti-LGBT sentiment.
The Russian authorities and the organising committee have, however, sought to allay any fears that this will be enforced against visitors during the World Cup.
In March, the Russian Football Union’s Alexei Smertin, a World Cup ambassador, told the BBC: “If you are talking about rainbow flags, it won’t be prohibited in Russia during World Cup or afterwards. It definitely won’t be stressful and we let everyone feel comfortable and safe in our country.”
Smertin was also quoted by the Independent as saying that, “You can kiss all you like, and hug one another, within the bounds of normal reason.”
The Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) remains hesitant. Earlier this month it published advice on its website for LGBT fans attending the event, stating that “it is strongly understood and advised that you do not publicly display your sexuality, but this is up to the individual.”
It noted that, while “we can’t guarantee safety,” it was unlikely that the authorities would take any action against LGBT visitors “during this time when the world’s media will be focused upon the country.”
It, however, urged transgender individuals in particular to be cautious when using public bathrooms. “We advise that you judge the situation on a case by case basis. If you do not feel safe, try and find a fellow fan to accompany you. If there is a disabled toilet and you are alone, that could be the safest option,” FSF said.
Athletes and fans who attended Russia’s Sochi Winter Olympic Games in 2014 faced similar fears. Italian transgender activist Vladimir Luxuria was arrested after she walked around the host city’s Olympic Park wearing a rainbow outfit and headdress and shouting “Gay is OK” and “It’s OK to be gay” in English and Russian.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup takes place in Russia from 14 June to 15 July.