FIFA Must Commit to Anti-Homophobia Campaign
In our campaign for the eradication of homophobia in football, one of the issues that we at Red Card Homophobia have repeatedly highlighted is the need for top-down reform from the game’s most powerful bodies. Being a grass-roots organisation, we understand the importance of reaching out to football supporters one by one, to change attitudes and foster a more accepting environment in which gay football players can be as open and proud as their straight counterparts.
But authorities such as FIFA, UEFA and national football associations must explicitly renounce homophobia if these bottom-up initiatives are to have their desired effect. The ultimate goal is to put every player, staff member and supporter on a level playing field, regardless of sexual orientation. As long as homophobic attitudes are tolerated by these authorities, we will not have achieved real change.
The reason why this is such an imperative is that recent pushes to achieve FIFA support for the anti-homophobia crusade have been met with disappointing levels of apathy and a distinct lack of commitment. In December last year, Qatar was handed hosting duties for the 2022 World Cup amid widespread concerns regarding how its traditionally homophobic laws would affect players and supporters from the LGBTQ community. In response to questions as to how FIFA, with its famous anti-discrimination campaign, would handle these concerns, President Sepp Blatter callously joked that “they should refrain from any sexual activities”. For an organisation that prides itself on its policies of inclusion and acceptance, Blatter’s comments and FIFA’s reluctance to address the issue represents several steps backward in an era that is supposed to represent progressivism.
Also last year, president of Croatian football Vladimir Markovic forbade the presence of gay footballers in Croatian football, arguing that “only healthy people” were welcome. FIFA did not condemn the statement outright, and thus prompted a vast outcry from supporters of the LGBTQ community demanding that FIFA cease to implicitly support such homophobic attitudes.
More recently, FIFA dismissed a comment by Nigerian women’s football coach, Eucharia Uche, claiming that homosexuality was “spiritually, morally very wrong” and that “divine intervention” had saved her team from housing any lesbian players. Despite public outrage at the fact that a football institution itself has been propounding anti-gay messages, FIFA declined to comment on them, let alone condemn them. As Joanie Evans, co-president of the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association says, “Women in sport are seen as a poor relation as it is. To discriminate against women again because of their sexuality is really damaging.”
It appeared that, with the Women’s World Cup this year, FIFA was set to take a step in the right direction. Robert Kastl, organiser of Berlin’s annual Gay Pride Parade, had secured use of the square in front of the Brandenburg Gate for June 25, the night before the World Cup was to commence. FIFA, seeking to use the square for its World Cup opening event, agreed with Kastl’s condition that it would issue an official public statement denouncing homophobia and place homophobia alongside racism and hooliganism on the list of FIFA’s highest anti-discrimination concerns. However, FIFA ultimately decided against using the venue and thus failed to follow through on its anti-homophobia promises.
Had FIFA taken this first crucial step against homophobia, as it came so close to doing, it would have sent a strong message to member football associations such as those of Nigeria and Croatia that football is no longer stuck in a bigoted past and no longer tolerates discrimination on the basis of sexuality. FIFA’s talk on anti-discrimination would have been strengthened by the fact that it no longer turned a blind eye to homophobia, one of the most pervasive and entrenched forms of discrimination. However, FIFA remains firmly rooted in a comfortable, cowardly position of apathy, and continues to promote the assumption that football is a ‘straight’ sport through its consistent failures to speak out.
At Red Card Homophobia, we reissue our urgent call for FIFA to stop ignoring the growing demands from individuals and groups around the world for action against homophobia. As we grow more and more diverse and accepting, so too must football and the people who represent it. Here’s hoping that the next time FIFA is handed an opportunity to denounce homophobia like the one provided by Robert Kastl, it chooses to seize it and bring football into a new age.