We have one ask for our Rainbow Laces campaign – wear laces. It seems like a small act, but if you’re lesbian, gay, bi or trans and you see someone wearing rainbow laces, it means the world. It shows that you’re someone who understands that sport isn’t yet somewhere LGBT people feel safe, but that you’re trying to change that.
Wearing laces may be a small act, but it’s also a brave one. Anyone who laces up can expect abuse. Every year during Rainbow Laces we expect a slew homophobic slurs and this year was no different. As soon as individuals or clubs indicated their support for LGBT equality on social media, the negative responses came thick and fast.
Despite what people think, despite the claim that this abuse is ‘harmless banter’, it makes the game feel unsafe for LGBT people. This is why laces are so important and why it was so great to see so many athletes, across all sports, come out in support of LGBT people.
We should be so grateful that we live in a society where people can lace up and show their support for LGBT equality. In Russia, such an act could land you in jail.
With the World Cup being hosted in Russia next year, the safety of LGBT fans is suddenly a hot topic. Russia has laws in place which create an extremely hostile environment for LGBT people. While it’s not illegal to be LGBT, it’s certainly not something that’s celebrated.
FIFA has issued advice suggesting LGBT fans shouldn’t hold hands with their partners. What that advice failed to recognise, and what discussions and debates about this will also fail to realise, is that in the UK, gay and bi men wouldn’t hold hands at a football match. They wouldn’t share a kiss while watching Saturday’s game down the pub.
Maybe they would if they were surrounded by the brilliant LGBT fan clubs who week in week out turn up at their club, proudly waving the rainbow flag, to show that yes, LGBT fans exist. But if they were on their own? Two men sharing a kiss outside the turnstiles on match day is unthinkable. It’s as unlikely as two men holding hands in Red Square, Moscow.
For those who took to Twitter to moan about ‘why are you shoving this down our throats?’ this is why. This cannot continue, this can’t be acceptable.
Without a doubt this World Cup is an amazing opportunity to highlight the situation of LGBT people around the world and to help people realise why Rainbow Laces is so needed. But we’ll be approaching the World Cup with caution and we’d advise others to do the same.
We’ll be talking to activists in Russia to understand how we can support them. This is absolutely crucial.
We know many LGBT fans will want to do something to help LGBT people in Russia. We know there will be a desire to take part in activism but any action has to be led by activists in Russia. This will ensure it’s safe and doesn’t put LGBT Russians at risk, and that it’s actually helpful.
We’ll also be working closely with sports bodies, including the FA, to look at what steps need to be taken to ensure the safety of fans travelling to the 2018 World Cup.
Sadly, at the moment, those steps won’t be that different from what LGBT fans in the UK do at the moment. So lacing up may be a small act – but as this week has proved, and no doubt the World Cup will prove – it’s a brave act.
I want to thank everyone who laced up or showed their support this week. You’re helping make sport everyone’s game. You’re helping show that sport can create positive change both in the UK and internationally. You’ve led the way, you’ve been brave. Stick with us. Together we’ll get there.