Ever since the 2018 World Cup was announced in Russia, watchdogs have been concerned with the impact of rewarding a country known for its many human rights transgressions, especially when it comes to LGBTQ community. As the Russian team opened tournament play on Thursday with a game against Saudi Arabia (another country known for its anti-LGBTQ stances), we found out that those issues are going to rear their ugly head and people are getting hurt.
Per Pink News and Outsports, a gay French couple was brutally attacked leading up to the start of the World Cup. The two had traveled to Russia to cheer on the French National Team, but were attacked, beaten, and robbed. Worse still, one of the men was sent to the hospital with potential brain injuries. The couple was apparently targeted after hailing a taxi in St Petersburg. Their phones and wallets were taken in the incident as well.
Two Russian men were arrested following the incident.
Of course, it remains to be seen if this is simply the first of many instances and violent incidents like it. Russia’s recent history with LGBTQ people has been horrendous, to say the least. And holding a massive event like the World Cup here, which invites hordes of soccer fans into Russian cities under the guise of patriotism and nationalism, could be a recipe for disaster. Russian soccer matches are often already violent affairs in the stands, but by bringing in other cultures and signifiers that clash with local beliefs, there are bound to be problems.
Russia passed a gay propaganda law in 2013 that criminalized the distribution of “propaganda” portraying same-sex relationships positively. Also, gay Russians have been subject to violence, not just from angry mobs but also from the government itself.
As Outsports reported, many LGBTQ soccer fans are very uneasy about attending games this year and many decided not to attend the World Cup at all out of fear over incidents such as this one.
FIFA, for their part, has basically brushed aside these kinds of concerns, just like they brushed aside the multitude of human rights concerns in Qatar, who was awarded the 2022 World Cup. Happy to cash their checks and receive their tax breaks, the governing body of the sport will likely continue to look the other way on issues such as this so long as they get what they want.
With Russia scoring a huge victory in the opening game of the World Cup, Russian fans are sure to be in an exuberant mood for the next few days. That might sound like a good news for some, but for LGBTQ fans worried about reprisals just for being who they are, it could make this a very dangerous time.