Fifa to act on Russia and Qatar’s anti-gay legislation

By Antoinette Muller 10 September 2013

Fifa has now finally been asked to act on Russia and Qatar’s anti-gay legislation. The two countries will host the 2018 and 2022 Soccer World Cups, respectively. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and new laws against promoting homosexuality have caused a stir in Russia. Fifa insist they are against discrimination of any sort, but awarding the World Cups to countries that discriminates against a certain group of people in their laws says otherwise. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter has remained mum on what exactly the sport’s governing body is doing in order to get clarification from both Russia and Qatar regarding their anti-gay legislation. Blatter was present at an International Olympic Committee (IOC) session in Buenos Aires over the weekend and already caused a stir when, in 2011, he said that gay people should “refrain from sexual activity” during the 2022 World Cup. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and Russia has passed a law against “promoting” gay lifestyles. This means that some football fans who visit these countries for the global footballing showpiece are at risk of being prosecuted.

Fifa’s new anti-discrimination task force, however, has put pressure on the governing body to ask both Russia, who will host the tournament in 2018, and Qatar to relax their anti-gay laws. Blatter will meet with his task force in Zurich on Thursday and the issue of these archaic laws is on the agenda.

Piara Powar, executive director of European anti-discrimination group Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), insists that the issues are far broader than the two countries. “The task force is driven by issues of race, quite rightly, but we also have to make sure there is consideration of homophobia and other issues of discrimination. Qatar is one of the few countries where homosexuality is still illegal and there are also big challenges in terms of the new law in Russia in regard to the World Cup,” he said.

The taskforce is chaired by Concacaf president, Jeffrey Webb, and was established last year as a way to respond to the echoing calls for football to foster stronger action towards anti-discrimination, as concerns grew following a number of incidents in the game.

Convincing countries that their laws and beliefs are wrong is a far more difficult task than responding to ill-informed actions by players on the field, though. Russia is already under fire ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, with many campaigners calling for a boycott of the games, with fears mounting that openly gay athletes, spectators, journalists and tourists could be arrested.

Stephen Fry has called for “an absolute ban” on the Games. Fry wrote an open letter to the UK Prime Minister and the IOC comparing hosting the Games in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia to the decision to hold the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. He said that Putin was “making scapegoats of gay people” and said he “cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world”.

Sponsors have also raised concerns about the Games, with American sponsors in particular being concerned. The IOC, however, has said it has received written assurances from the Russian government that the issue would not affect Games participants, including accredited people as well as Olympic spectators. Russia has insisted that their law does not “prohibit homosexuality directly or indirectly”.

Russia’s new laws have been staunchly supported by Alexey Sorokin, the head of the 2018 World Cup organising committee, who said that the Olympics and World Cup are “not a stage for various views”.

Sorokin clearly hasn’t read Fifa’s tolerance policies. Article 3 states: “Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of ethnic origin, gender, language, religion, politics or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.”

The sport’s governing body has always insisted that it does not tolerate discrimination. Yet, if Russia and Qatar remain as hosts for their global showpieces, their standards are appallingly double. Perhaps this isn’t too much of a surprise.

Russia won the bid for hosting the World Cup in 2010 on the same day Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup. Fifa member countries approved tougher sanctions for discrimination in May, but Blatter has insisted that there is no “definite answer” on action towards Qatar. Qualification for hosting rights doesn’t seem to take into account basic human rights.

Qatar is also under fire for their working conditions after ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said more than a million migrant workers faced continued exploitation, poverty wages and denial of the most basic rights. “This is not a move we take lightly. The 2022 World Cup was awarded years ahead of schedule, if a new venue is selected in the next two years there is still time for the infrastructure to be in place in time for the games. Fifa must act now – the longer the delay, the more workers will suffer and die.

“Fifa and Qatar have spoken frequently about need for reform, but the record is rife with broken promises. The Qataris have pledged to ensure that international labour standards are met, while construction workers die at a rate eight times that of other rich countries,” said Burrow.

A copy of the Workers’ Charter, which was written by the local organising committee, was leaked and obtained by Equal Times. Construction workers get paid as little as $8 per day and work 15 hours a day, six days a week. Construction workers are constantly being injured in falls, which often leads to disability, and the rights of workers in the Middle Eastern city are very limited. Qatar’s rate of 5 fatal work injuries per 100,000 employees is eight times higher than the level in the UK, and well above the US rate of 3.5 per 100,000 according the website Qatar Under Construction, which monitors safety issue in the construction industry.

With Russia already at the eye of a controversial storm ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, and with Qatar’s mounting issues, Fifa have to act and they have to do so fast. Basic human rights are being ignored by a governing body that, instead of stuffing its coffers, should be a beacon for forward thinking. DM

Photo: FIFA president Sepp Blatter gestures during a news conference in Zurich April 23, 2010. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann



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