If they were serious about influencing Russia and Qatar, FIFA would threaten to pull the World Cups from their 2018 and 2022 hosts. Perhaps that will come, but at this point, we’re seeing (at most) mild indignation from soccer’s world governing body over each country’s anti-homosexuality legislation, with president Sepp Blatter at one time going so far to say potential gay fans at Qatar in 2022 should “refrain from sexual activity.” After all, nothing says anti-discrimation like ‘please stop being you.’
That stance cast today’s news as a form of meek progress, with FIFA’s anti-discrimination taskforce set to recommend the broader body exert more pressure on Russia and Qatar. Russia recently enacted legislation outlawing public displays of homosexuality, while Qatar bans homosexuality altogether. While much of the focus on Russia’s laws has centered on next year’s Sochi Winter Olympics, FIFA faces having to deal with the discriminatory laws five years from now. And again in 2022.
While Blatter’s comments (made before Russia enacted their laws) did initially brush off the issue, FIFA’s new anti-discrimation taskforce, formed last year and chaired by CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb, will reportedly recommend that the body take a more active role in trying to reform the laws.
Via The Guardian, here’s former England FA chairman David Berstein, a member of the taskforce, on the group’s view:
“These are issues of civil rights, fans and players of all races, religions and sexuality need to feel comfortable going to the World Cups in both Russia and Qatar. It is going to be quite a challenge but we have to make sure that football becomes the vehicle for social change that we claim it is. This is a big issue.”
Football as a vehicle for social change is a pretty nebulous, self-serving concept, but the principal could motivate FIFA to do the right thing. That’s assuming this taskforce is more than mere lip service to acting against discrimination. FIFA may be content saying they have a task force, as opposed to actually acting on their recommendations.
Between these issues and the increased attention to racism that’s arisen, FIFA has incentive to address the problem, if only to avoid increased coverage of the problem. Whether that incentive transcends their want to choose World Cup hosts like Qatar remains to be seen. It’s not like Qatar wasn’t anti-gay when World Cup 2022 was awarded.
Urging FIFA, as a whole, to get tougher on discrimination is a positive step by the taskforce. We’ll have to wait and see what that means to the broader governing body.
But if FIFA were serious about curtailing discrimination, they would not only pressure Russia and Qatar. They would dissociate entirely. Given they’ve already awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, step one would be threatening to take them away.