by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
The FIFA World Cup, more commonly referred to as The World Cup, is the most widely viewed and followed sporting event in the world, exceeding even the Olympic Games. The number of people who watch the championship soccer, or 'football' - what everyone else calls it around the world outside of America - game is impressive for sure. The cumulative audience of all matches of the 2006 FIFA World Cup was estimated to be 26.29 billion with an estimated 715.1 million people watching the final match, a ninth of the entire population of the planet.
And we thought RuPaul's Drag Race was popular!
On July 13, in Brazil, Germany won The 2014 FIFA World Cup over Argentina, 1-0 in the final.
The current format of the competition involves a qualification phase, which takes place over the preceding three years (meaning the World Cup championship tournament happens every four years) to determine which teams qualify for the tournament phase, which is often called the World Cup Finals. Thirty-two teams, including the automatically qualifying host nation(s), compete in the tournament phase for the title at venues within the host nation(s) over a period of about a month. So, as you can see, we are talking about the world here - not just a few states or even one continent. The World Cup - living up to its name - truly involves the world.
The 20 World Cup tournaments have been won by eight different national teams. Brazil has won five times (they are also the only team to have played in every tournament), Italy and Germany have four titles each; Argentina and inaugural winner Uruguay, have two titles each; and England, France and Spain, have one title each. Although the American team has improved over the years, we have yet to win a title.
So, aside from hot guys running around for hours in shorts looking tremendously sexy - what does any of this have to do with the Gay community per se? Organizations like GLAAD, Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) claim unchecked homophobia is rampant at the global competition. In short, the World Cup, the world's favorite pastime, is anti-Gay.
Here's how: Some nations are immensely further evolved when it comes to LGBTQ rights while other cultures continue to preserve and promote homophobia.
In another example of what can happen whenever any event - athletic or political - is played out on the world stage, language and what is considered offensive or harmless begins to take shape. Fans present at matches in Brazil hurled anti-Gay slurs at opposing teams. During the June 23 telecast of Mexico vs. Amsterdam, the word 'puto' (as well as the anti-Gay slur 'culero') was chanted over the general roar in the stadium. Puto is the equivalent of 'faggot' in the U.S. In fact, Mexico's anti-discrimination agency, Conapred, has come out strongly stating that the word is offensive and hurtful.
FIFA, or the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, the sport's governing body, disregarded the issue in a public statement saying that the use of anti-Gay slurs is not offensive in the context of a soccer game.
But not everyone agreed with such a statement. In contrast, television networks like Univison and ESPN apologized to audiences for the anti-Gay language by explaining that they had no control over the feed supplied by FIFA.
'Previously, FIFA was asked to take part in a public education campaign to help eradicate anti-Gay slurs from your games,' GLAAD said in an open letter to FIFA chastising them for not taking a stand against homophobia in sports. (The letter had 25 cosignors.) '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.'
In order to stop GLAAD from approaching its sponsors, GLAAD demanded that FIFA 'take decisive action to eliminate anti-LGBT slurs from its venues' and 'stop disregarding the concrete harm these slurs inflict on countless fans.'
As you can imagine, FIFA has yet to issue a public response or even answer GLAAD via email or letter making it obvious that the organization just does not care about the issue because they don't see it as an issue at all.
For the activist groups and nations that do care, unless something drastically changes, the problem is set to intensify. In 2018, ultra anti-Gay Russia will host the World Cup and in 2022, the somewhat less intolerant, but still anti-Gay, Qatar hosts the world stage event.
Admittedly, homophobia in sports is not exclusive to the World Cup, or even soccer. Only recently have we seen American professional sports leagues welcome openly LGBT athletes. Slowly but surely, around the globe, pro and semi-pro athletes are coming out and being welcomed by teammates, coaches and fans alike. But we all saw what happened with the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in which the world was shown that where the game or match or tournament is played unquestionably plays a role in how much or little homophobia is propagated. With Russia as the next World Cup host, chances are soccer's biggest tournament will sadly move farther away from the right side of history where openly Gay players are treated the same as their heterosexual counterparts, and towards the dark pages of history where athletes are segregated from one another or not allowed to participate at all, based solely on who they love.
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