While hundreds of millions of people around the world were wrapped up in the World Cup this year — or, let’s be honest, just enjoying the scenery — gay rights organizations like GLAAD, Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) were following a different narrative: the rampant and largely unchecked homophobia present at the global competition.
It’s a touchy issue, and an inevitable one whenever the international community decides to put aside differences to focus on athletic achievement. Because along with differing political ideologies, some nations are vastly more evolved when it comes to LGBT rights and some cultures continue to perpetuate homophobia with more fevered intensity.
So as football mania swept up sports fans — and by all means it was an exciting and dramatic contest — there was also the problem of what to do when some fans present at matches in Brazil hurled antigay shouts veiled as “cheering” at opposing teams.
During the June 23 telecast of Mexico vs. The Netherlands, the word “puto” (as well as the antigay slur “culero”) could be heard chanted over the general ruckus and roar in the stadium. Depending on where you are in the world, puto is either the equivalent of “faggot” or at best, a generic derogatory putdown. Conapred, Mexico’s anti-discrimination agency, has come out strongly stating that the word is offensive and hurtful.
And yet FIFA decided to ignore the issue, publicly stating that use of the antigay slurs was not offensive in the context of a soccer game. Except, of course, to all the people who were offended.
Even television networks like Univison and ESPN apologized to audiences for the language, explaining that they had no control over the feed supplied by FIFA.
In an open letter, GLAAD (along with 25 other cosigners) threatened FIFA to take a stand against homophobia, writing:
Previously, FIFA was asked to take part in a public education campaign to help eradicate anti-gay slurs from your games. That call was ignored, however. If FIFA continues to turn its head the other way and tacitly condone anti-gay discrimination, we will be left with no choice but to express our very grave concern to your sponsors, several of which have a long history of speaking out against anti-LGBT bias.
FIFA must take decisive action to eliminate anti-LGBT slurs from its venues and stop disregarding the concrete harm these slurs inflict on countless fans.
FIFA has not responded publicly.
The problem won’t go away on its own, and is only set to intensify in 2018 and 2022, when vehemently anti-gay Russia and Qatar respectively host the world stage event.
The dilemma isn’t unique to the World Cup, or to soccer. We all saw what happened with the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
And while most Americans have never heard of the Commonwealth Games (it’s like a less exciting Olympics among the Commonwealth of Nations — mostly territories of the former British Empire), homophobia has taken center stage ahead of the games in Glasgow.
42 of the 53 member countries of the Commonwealth criminalize homosexuality, with penalties up to life imprisonment in at least seven member states, plus the death penalty in parts of northern Nigeria and rural Pakistan, and the scheduled introduction of death by stoning in Brunei.
Some organizations like The Peter Tatchell Foundation are urging British Prime Minister David Cameron to speak up, writing:
We want the Prime Minister to give a lead and set a positive tone by publicly declaring that anti-LGBT persecution is a violation of the Commonwealth Charter and that LGBTI athletes will be welcome in Glasgow. We are asking him to state his support for Article 7 and to make it clear that no country should be permitted to discriminate with regard to who they select for the up-coming games. He should make clear that the UK government is willing to give asylum to LGBTI athletes who are at risk of victimisation in their county of origin.
As has become the unfortunate expectation at this point, no response from the British government has been issued.