FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia Should Focus On Soccer, Not Politics

The debate on gay marriage — whether it should be legal, whether it is right, whether it is normal, whether it is important — is arguably the biggest of the last year, or maybe longer. It rages on with fundamentalist groups citing the Bible to defend their stance and the progressive groups accusing the former of being stuck in another century with their archaic thinking inspired by a “silly” religious text.

It’s been a touchy issue in sports, as well. Across different sports, various athletes have made the decision to come out as being gay, including Britney Greiner in women’s basketball, Jason Collins in men’s basketball, and Robbie Rogers in soccer. Their comings out have met various response: praise, condemnation, admiration, and neutrality. The debate has thus spread into the world of sport, mostly concerning whether or not a person’s sexuality matters, and whether or not straight teammates can be comfortable with a gay teammate in the locker room.

We’ve seen how fans are criticized for their views of homosexuals — mostly exemplified by the letter from the Zenit St. Petersburg fans to their ownership proclaiming they didn’t want blacks or homosexuals on their club. And now (because we just can’t get enough) the foul stench of debate has arisen concerning Russia’s “anti-gay” laws that prohibit pro-gay propaganda.

Here’s the thing, though — this shouldn’t be something to be debated.

Alexey Sorokin, the CEO of the 2018 World Cup, recently defended the new laws, saying that the laws prohibit pro-gay propaganda, not homosexuality itself. “That is a big difference,” he said. He’s right.

Here’s the definition of “propaganda” according to my friends at

1. information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.

2. the deliberate spreading of such information, rumors, etc.

3. the particular doctrines or principles propagated by an organization or movement.


Sorokin made his point very well and diplomatically, but it seems to have been overlooked because people are so focused on the words “gay” and “prohibition” in the same sentence.

Here’s the main point: a soccer competition should be about soccer, nothing else.

It’s difficult to see why this is such an offensive issue. Think about it this way. If the World Cup were held in China, where Bibles are banned, you wouldn’t see christian flags being waved in the stands. If the World Cup were held in the 1950s United States, you wouldn’t see communist propaganda in the grounds, because these are issues on which the national governments have spoken clearly about their stance.

You can debate the moral issue all you want. You can accuse Russians of being archaic in their thinking, you can call them moral dinosaurs, close-minded, bigoted, etc. to your heart’s content. But in the context of the World Cup, that is not the role these laws play. The law (remember, in the context of the World Cup) is not to discriminate against a group of people, but it would seem to actually keep the peace. It’s evident by incidences such as the Zenit letter that the Russian people are not in agreement with countries like the United States, Norway, Spain, etc that support and/or allow and/or recognize same-sex couples. If a government is aware of where its people stand on an issue, why would it allow propaganda that promotes that issue at a competition of a sport with the history of violence that soccer has? In other words, why risk someone vehemently opposed to homosexuality encountering someone with pro-gay propaganda and introducing the risk of violence?

But aside from the morality/amorality/immorality and irrespective of your personal stance, can we just make a soccer competition about soccer?

49 thoughts on “FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia Should Focus On Soccer, Not Politics”

    1. honestly, this article just defended McCarthyism. its breath taking that anyone thought this would be an acceptable article to run.

      1. Seriously. In what world would an editor decide that this was an acceptable article to run on this site? The more I think about it, the more unbelievable this is.

          1. Then how about adding a statement at the end saying “The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jeffrey Poling”

          2. It’s an opinion piece that is poorly researched and speaking of legislation and conditions in Russia the author clearly knows nothing about. It sets up a false equivalence and is absurd.

  1. Your “friends at” and the authoritarian thugs that will decide what is considered “pro-gay propaganda” are two entirely different things. You are living in a dream world if you think the corrupt Russian government won’t continue to jail people for expressing themselves.

    By the way, what is “pro-gay propaganda”? Can you define it, Jeffrey? Is it the same as “pro-heterosexual propaganda”?

    And, I’,m sorry, but the “foul stench of debate”? You are the Russian government’s wet dream … someone who would rather bury debate and dissent than challenge inhumane laws.

  2. Citing the 1950’s isn’t the best defense of anything.

    “Rosa Parks should be happy she gets to ride the bus” – article on – circa 1955

  3. Homophobic, ignorant journalism. And if Russia was anti-black? Would we still adhere to these “laws”? I usually enjoy this website, but you just lost a long-time visitor. Humanity, not just one country should boycott the 2018 World Cup with a vengeance and make a unified statement that anti-LGBT laws internationally should end NOW. Adios, I won’t be back here again.

    1. boycotting isn’t going to solve anything. teams (and olympians in 2014) need to go to both competitions and show defiance.

      just like Jesse Owens, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos.

      1. And Marty Glickman. Don’t forget his show of defiance in ’36. Oh wait – he wasn’t allowed to run because he was Jewish. Look, you either have rights or you don’t. If rights are not universal, then they’re just privileges. Move the cup and the Olympics

      2. I wasn’t suggesting the teams boycott, just the fans. Teams need to be there to voice their opposition. Fans need to hit Russia in the pocket.

  4. Must agree with the other commenters. Of course, the author is entitled to his opinion, but it is certainly naive to think that this will not be used as an excuse to use heavy-handed tactics against those seen as troublesome.

    As is often (not always) the case, if you replace ‘gay’ with any racial/ethnic/gender term, then I think you can see why this is problematic.

  5. “The law (remember, in the context of the World Cup) is not to discriminate against a group of people, but it would seem to actually keep the peace.” This is one of the most ignorant things I’ve read recently. You can’t really believe this, can you?

    ” If a government is aware of where its people stand on an issue, why would it allow propaganda that promotes that issue” You may want to do a bit of research as to the real reasons this law was passed, before you start making such laughable statements.

  6. Gareth,

    Opinions, even offensive, unpopular, or stupid ones, should have a space for discourse.

    I always believe that sport and politics should be avoided at all costs. However, there are times when this is not possible.

    If the mixing of sport and politics is what the point of the writer was, I get it.

    However, he shows his naïveté by bringing up “gay marriage” as relavant or related to these Russian laws and by his flippant acceptance at face value, that these “laws” are just about “gay propaganda” when in practice, they are meant to be far more nefarious, not unlike the “separate but equal” laws in the Jim Crow, Deep South.

    Would it have been ok to host a World Cup in an apartheid South Africa? Is it fair to compare the two? Does the West and its media have a moral high ground to lecture Russia? After all, it took the President of the United States to be safely elected to a 2nd Term in 2012, to come out in favor of his gay citizens being allowed the same dignity under the law as their hetero brethren.

    It’s a complicated issue and is worthy of discussion for sure.

    1. I don’t think anyone is suggesting this website and it’s journalists should not have a right to speak their voice. But, they should also be very aware that consequences are costly in journalism. Surely they’ll lose both credibility and readership from such ignorant statements. I for one am quitting my RSS feed after this conversation runs it’s course. I have lost all respect for this website and the editors who green-light such garbage.

        1. One article might not make anybody jump ship… but the way you’ve responded to the justified criticism sure as hell might.

          Wake up — there are literally ZERO comments here supporting this piece. That should tell you something.

          1. Gareth, not sure what you mean. All I did was post a link to another story that is a counterpoint to this article. And I told someone that it’s sad if they leave because if one story he doesn’t agree with.

    2. I appreciate your response, and I appreciate that you are as respectful as I’d intended to be in the original article. I wouldn’t normally try to defend everything I write, but since this is indeed an opinion piece, I’ll bite on the criticism.

      If you were to tell me that the law is homophobic, I wouldn’t disagree for a split second. I think that the law operates under a false, stereotypical premise that EVERY member of the LGBT community is seeking to promote their agenda. I rarely if ever see people walking around with propaganda, so I would reject that premise.
      But my intent, as I think you understand, is to simply promote respect, as I believe respect is the best way to break down these kinds of cultural barriers. That word seems to come up a lot in these kinds of debates, and I’m of the mind that any party seeking respect should themselves be respectful. I tend to think that the wrong response to these laws is to deliberately break them.
      In the end, what matters is how determined you are to your cause. We can debate how wrong it is to beat members of the LGBT (Gareth posted a picture above of that, which I DON’T support, by the way,) that is not the issue at the heart of what I wrote. The issue is commitment to your cause. Understanding that this is the type of place where, whether fairly or unfairly, there will be consequences to acting a certain way or bringing certain things, and it’s up to the fans to decide whether or not it’s worth it to stick to their guns at a soccer tournament, of all things.

      No disrespect intended.

      1. I have this bridge in Brooklyn. Has a lot of miles on it, but it is pretty solid. Some other guy is interested, but because I like you so much, I’ll sell it to you for $120,000.

        Law operates under a false premise? This law isn’t designed to stop people from promoting homosexuality… it is to try and abolish it!

        I understand that you mean no disrespect, but you have so clearly no idea what you are talking about.

  7. “Soccer” is a game deeply woven into the fabric of society, to say that football should ignore these issues is naive.

    Using “The Worlds Game” and its premier competition to manipulate public opinion and economic factors does indeed mean that it should be held to a higher standard and factor in the views of society when it relates to such major issues. same with the olympics. (any coincidence Sepp is on both committees? lol)

    For example…Qatar using football to present itself to the world in a way that deflects from the realities of a variety of social issues and regional turmoil in west Asia.

    Editorially surely WST would have realized and ultimately accepted the kind of debate that posting such an article would cause?

    With key talking points all being Fifa corruption, gay rights, football as an engine of change in society, Russian government corruption. religion and atheism.

    Critiquing WST for making the decision to expose you to that debate in a football context is pretty weak…

    IMO…Russia shouldn’t have been given the EC or Olypics in my view, but not just for social issues and anti diversity policies…

    No country is perfect, but Russia is more corrupt than a corrupt thing on national corrupt day.

  8. I take more issue with all the bloody ads on here now and the poor mobile experience than I do the debate of football and society.

  9. Gross. Definitely not up to the standard of this site.

    And everything is politics. Everything. Sports, restaurant locations, your knitting club – it’s all political. All of it. None of it is “just x.”

  10. I personally find many issues offensive about Russia hosting. I’ve signed multiple petitions urging the US to consider Boycotting the Winter Olympics in 2014 and I hope that things change before we have to think about the 2018 World Cup. For any large number of reasons I do not believe Russia should be rewarded for its behavior not only towards Gays/Lesbians but towards ethnic minorities, journalists,domestic political opposition and neighboring countries.

    However I believe any discussion of Russia 2018 is premature at this stage. Let’s see where we are a year from now and then at that point perhaps FIFA needs to employ a contingency plan.

  11. In Russia homosexuality treated as perversion/disease. Russian history and culture left the mark that they always valued HEALTHY FAMILY principles.

    Various institutions try to promote homosexuality but without any luck.
    I’m not sure HOW Western media report on gay parades attempts in Russia and post-USSR countries, but reality is cruel. People don’t accept and do NOT want to accept such propaganda at all.
    … there are LOTS of similar videos.

    Bold move by the Russians to ban pro-gay propaganda. Main point is forbid popularization of perversion in public places. Law aims to protect children, save society from decay and aid reproduction.

    They also put lots of effort in banning alcohol, cigarette, pedophilia, drugs etc propaganda.. so more “unpopular” laws on their way!

    I agree that moral principles are DIFFERENT on the West and homosexuality is something very common.
    In Russia being gay is fine – with one condition you don’t tell EVERYONE about it. If your decision is to tell – you will only provoke rage and unrest.

    I fully agree that you should NOT mix politics and sports. This is theory however, in practice this is impossible.
    Even the worldcup itself is the way to promote sport, make the nation healthier and develop infrastructure.

    Great blog!

    1. There is something seriously wrong with you (and the Russian authorities).

      “Popularization of perversion”?

      Being gay is fine, just don’t tell anyone? How incredibly inhumane and backward, and how tragic that you accept this.

      1. Yes, that’s right
        “Popularization of perversion”

        It’s called democracy. Nation don’t want it – government obliges.
        Win-win situation.

        There are many let-people-express-themselves-priests anyway. For eg

        So again, VAST majority of the nation do NOT want propaganda/popularization of homosexuality, pedophilia, zoo sex and other perversions & mental diseases.

        There are FAR TOO MANY other ways on how can one express himself. For eg music, cinema, poetry… erm… football… and many many many more…

    2. Thank you for the positive feedback (it is hard to come by) and I would agree that it’s virtually impossible in practice.

  12. Let’s put it this way. I dont care for pro gay propaganda or anti gay propaganda. Both suck and nobody cares. Keep your gay views to yourself, keep your anti gay views to yourself and lets get on with it. Nobody cares if your gay, nobody cares if your straight. Nobody wants to see you kissing a man or a woman in public.

    Governments suck which is why anarchy is better. Simple as this.

      1. Actually, what you said is false full of ignorance. I never approved or disapproved of any sexual behavior which is where people should be on these subjects along with governments. If your so ignorant to actally believe we live in a world where the west is better than the east and governments have done good things. You are clearly a poor individual who does not understand any history or society as a whole. With Anarchy nobody is really going to be making any laws against anybody. This would not even be a problem there is nobody ruling over anybody ! everybody will be a total free indivdual. But then again your idea of what Anarchy would be is probably the idea of what most ignorant people think. CHAOS !. Think again you mentally pathetic prson.

        By the way, Was you opposing the London Olympics given the fact that England was involved with the U.S. in murdering thousands upon thosuands of muslims and occupying lands and taking away rights of those people (the right to a feaking life and property) and causing trouble? I would probably say you wasnt. Because of the foolish thing you just said to me.

        Go be a hypocrite somewhere else. That goes for the rest of you backwards nimrods. Stop talking about laws against homosexuality and rights when you probably dont have the balls to speak out against imperialism and war and hate that is generated in western countries against those in the east. Especially those who have never done you any wrong !.

      1. Except the law is about abolishing homosexuality (or at least trying to). It isn’t about pro or anti propaganda… it is about simply being.

          1. “Legal opinion”? The bill outlaws gay pride meetings. In the US that would violate the 1st Amendment, but in Russia it doesn’t. Granted, Russia isn’t trying to exterminate the gays like some African nations are, thanks to American Evangelical proding, but this bill is hardly about “protecting” the children.

          2. They have 1st Amendment in Russia? Is it what your ‘legal opinion’ is based on? As for the US don’t some states still have laws that consider sodomy a criminal offense?

  13. I’m sure it doesnt mean much to the author, but as someone that falls in to the “B” category of the alphabet soup, you have my respect for posting your (unpopular) opinion.

  14. It is ironic that majority of posters in this forum can put so much energy in condemning gay rights treatment in Russia and remain essentially silent about broad assault on fundamental personal liberties (protected by 1st Amendment) by the US government via NSA and other surveillance programs. At least I haven’t heard about efforts to boycott major sporting events in the US in response to NSA revelations.

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