Gay fans warned about holding hands while in Russia for World Cup

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Rainbow flags and other rainbow themes have been displayed in the Premier League and England’s lower leagues this month. (Getty)
Rainbow flags and other rainbow themes have been displayed in the Premier League and England’s lower leagues this month. (Getty)

Gay fans traveling to the 2018 World Cup will be advised to refrain from public displays of affection, such as holding hands, while in Russia next summer.

Transgender fans and people of certain races will also be urged to exercise caution while visiting Russia, a country that is far less welcoming to LGBT and minority communities than others in western Europe and the Americas.

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FARE – Football Against Racism in Europe – an organization that has partnered with FIFA to combat discrimination in and around soccer, will publish a comprehensive guide for traveling fans that will educate them on homophobia and racism in Russia.

Homosexuality is no longer a crime in Russia, but it is not accepted by large portions of the country’s population. A 2013 bill introduced a law that prohibits open discussion of homosexuality. It forbids schools from educating students about homosexuality. The law classified discussion of “non-traditional” relationships as propaganda.

Piara Powar, FARE’s executive director, speaking Tuesday ahead of the release of the organization’s guide, explained its purpose: “The guide will advise gay people to be cautious in any place which is not seen to be welcoming to the LGBT community. The same message is there for black and ethnic minority fans – do go to the World Cup, but be cautious.”

“If you have gay fans walking down the street holding hands, will they face danger in doing so?” he continued. “That depends on which city they are in and the time of day.”

“Issues relating to the LGBT community are not part of the public discourse,” he said. “Gay people have a place in Russia which is quite hidden and underground.”

Since the “gay propaganda” law was introduced, hate crimes against LGBT people in Russia have doubled.

FARE also urged FIFA to specify homophobia as a punishable offense in its disciplinary code. That disciplinary code makes specific mention of racism and abuse aimed at religion, but there is no mention of sexuality. Powar called that potential addition to the code “critical.”

FARE also hopes FIFA will give fans explicit permission to wave rainbow flags in stadiums during World Cup matches. There is no current rule preventing such flags, provided FIFA does not see them as political displays.

FIFA has already named an official anti-racism “inspector,” former Russian midfielder Alexei Smertin, for the World Cup. But it hasn’t yet taken sufficient action to ensure homophobia won’t be a problem next summer. FARE is working to force FIFA to do so.

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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

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