LGBT fans in Russia believe relaxed policing will end after World Cup


LGBT football fans in Russia fear the protection afforded to them at this summer's World Cup will disappear once the event has finished.

Authorities have been relaxed in applying the country's "gay propaganda" laws during the sport's biggest showcase, according to the head of the Russian LGBT Sport Federation, Aleksandr Agapov.

Fans have been able to display rainbow flags in stadiums, as promised before the tournament by Fifa and the Russian football association.

Russia World Cup 2018
Russia World Cup 2018

But Mr Agapov questioned whether the World Cup would have any lasting legacy, with authorities making the issue one of "hospitality" rather than human rights.

He told the Press Association: "In a way it is very good that Russia shows its opportunity, its possibility to be so open and inclusive but for me as an LGBTI person it is a huge question whether we will have a positive legacy of the World Cup when the World Cup is over."

Asked if there had been any issues reported at the tournament, he said: "No, but that is only because the LGBTI issue is marked to the police as 'these guys during the World Cup are kind of untouchable'."

There was an international outcry when in 2013, the country passed a law banning the promotion of "non-traditional sexual relations" to under 18s.

But Mr Agapov said: "The anti-gay legislation is out of usage.

"I was myself at the stadium at the opening and there were children next to me and I was waving a rainbow flag.

"So it was the case for implementing the anti-gay legislation.

"But they did not do it, why? That is the question.

"On other days I'm pretty sure this legislation would have been applied in this case.

"The anti-gay legislation is still there, nobody is going to cancel it."

And he said foreign journalists' questions about security for travelling LGBT fans were being used to suggest the issue was not a domestic one.

"We move the issue from the field of human rights to the field of hospitality," he said.

"And for them it is making the issue easier to explain to the Russian audience because they present LGBTI as a western phenomenon, as their case, like 'we do not have gays here or they do not deserve the same treatment'.

"And I think this is important because the Russian audience read this between the lines of these official statements."

England fan Di Cunningham, who co-founded Three Lions Pride, said the group's presence in Russia had had an impact and many Russians were approaching them to take selfies and welcome them.

She travelled to Russia with four others but said she was disappointed more LGBT England fans did not make the journey.

The 56-year-old, from Norwich, said: "There are other LGBT fans who if they'd known what kind of experience we were going to get and what kind of reception we would get and what genuine protection we're getting from the World Cup and from Fifa and the Russian FA and our own FA, then maybe they would have come.

"But I don't think anyone could have said it was going to be fine, we had threatening emails, threatening Facebook posts, threatening tweets and bots.

"Was it for us to guess whether they were just keyboard warriors or were genuine threats?

"I'm not going to blame the FA, I'm not going to blame Fifa, I'm not going to blame the Foreign Office - lay that blame firmly at the door of the Russian politicians who've introduced the 2013 gay propaganda act and wilfully make life difficult for the community here."

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