The Winter Olympics have come and gone, and the lasting legacy of those games will be that they played out amid the specter of Russia's anti-LGBT law, sanctioned by President Vladimir Putin and enforced by public opinion. Criminalizing the distribution of "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" to minors effectively made it illegal to suggest that gay relationships are equal to heterosexual relationships or to distribute material on gay rights.
Since this law passed, and despite promises of safety to athletes and tourists, official arrests have taken place — but no promises were made to Russia's own citizens. More terrifyingly, militia groups such as Occupy Pedophilia have sprung up across the country, believing they now have the right to torture and even murder people they believe to be gay. During the games, the infamous members of Pussy Riot were the most prominent to be beaten by Cossacks with horse whips after attempting to perform a song beneath an advertisement for the Sochi Olympics.
At a cost of $51 billion, the Sochi Games were the most expensive to date. Assuming that Russia swallows these costs, virtually all of the money received from 2018 ticket sales, sponsorship, and tourism will be profit. Russia is building its economy on projected income from both the Olympics, as well as the upcoming World Cup in 2018.
In contrast, apartheid in South Africa lasted more than four decades, and economic sanctions proved useful in the fight against racial oppression. Removing the prospect of further income derived from major sporting events would seriously damage Russia’s financial outlook. Putin would have no choice but to listen to the rest of the world and reconsider his approach to LGBTQ and other encompassing human rights in order to maintain a competitive standing in foreign markets.
Soccer is already rife with homophobia and racism. FIFA has a responsibility to tackle this not just within its own teams, but within soccer in general. Football v. Homophobia, a U.K. organization dedicated to highlighting and promoting better attitudes, has worked with clubs at a championship level to raise funds and awareness. But there is still plenty of work to be done before the sport can eradicate these social problems.
FIFA awarded Russia with being the host country for the World Cup more than three years prior to the inception of Putin’s despicable antigay law. The good news is that the 2018 World Cup is still four years away. This organization has an opportunity to come forward to support the most basic of human rights by withdrawing any and all support to such infringements. FIFA is obligated to stand up for LGBT fans, players, and citizens of the world by declaring enough is enough. The leading body in soccer should in no way accept any country that blatantly oppresses others. The same should be said in 2022 to Qatar, the following host of the World Cup.
After the announcement of Putin’s law last summer, a Change.org petition was set up to request a relocation of the Olympic Winter Games. Stephen Fry and George Takei vehemently endorsed the petition, which garnered 175,000 signatures in just a few short days. Sadly, due to time constraints, it was inevitable the games would go on.
But a new campaign is attempting to raise 1 million signatures to demand FIFA take action against Russia. Add your voice, sign the petition, and spread the word with #fifa2018.
JAMES LAVIN is the author of the petition urging FIFA to change the venue of the 2018 World Cup. He lives in the United Kingdom.
CORRECTION: the author stated that Apartheid in South Africa lasted 23 years. In fact, the practice was in place from 1948-1991, or 43 years. We regret the error.