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World Cup 2018: FARE ready for post-tournament challenges in Russia

Omnisport
NEWS
News
823   //    16 Jul 2018, 18:26 IST
PussyRiotKylianMbappe - cropped
Pussy Riot protester greets Kylian Mbappe

One of the social media themes easily detected after members of the media and fans alike thoroughly enjoyed themselves at a wonderful World Cup in Russia was the "what was all the fuss about?" post.

Travellers from western Europe headed to Russia fully versed in tales of hooliganism and against a news backdrop of Vladimir Putin's regime being linked to sinister acts from chemical attacks to electoral medalling.

A heavy police and security presence, along with the vetting allowed by FIFA's Fan ID system, meant football violence was never likely to stain the tournament, leaving fans from around the world to take in the imposing grandeur of Moscow, the elegance of St Petersburg and a nationwide party with a warm and welcoming public.

The fear for those pushing to tackle discrimination against ethnic minorities and the LGBT community in Russian football, such as Pavel Klymenko of the FARE Network, is their ongoing fight might be lost beneath the plaudits.

"Certainly for Russia this tournament has been a charm offensive," Klymenko told Omnisport at FARE's Diversity House in St Petersburg – a project that also featured a Moscow location throughout the tournament, providing a safe space for watching matches, parties, exhibitions and discussions.

"Many international fans have enjoyed the tournament but there have always been these underlying issues that many people felt were swept under the carpet.

"On the surface, you had an amazing experience of partying in central Moscow, bringing flags and booze to Red Square.

"But when someone wants to express an opinion or a protest… there have been instances of people going out into Red Square with just a blank sheet of paper and being arrested for that."

Pussy Riot claimed responsibility for the pitch invasion that interrupted Sunday's final between France and Croatia, and the art-punk protest group outlined demands for the release of political prisoners, an end to "illegal arrests" at rallies and the renewal of political competition in Russia via accompanying social media posts.

Additionally, Pussy Riot cited the late poet Dmitri Aleksandrovich Prigov to paint a contrast between benevolent policing during the World Cup and an anticipated return to a hardline approach.

"We can talk about someone having a great time on holiday in the Maldives but if you ask the locals how it is living in the Maldives they will tell you the story of poverty, of authoritarian government and religious oppression," Klymenko said.

"It's a similar story here - as a visitor in a certain World Cup bubble that was created especially for the visitors.

"It is very silly to think the stories that have been prominent before the World Cup about how tough the life is for the LGBT community here, for ethnic minorities, that they have been just made up."

FARE were banished from their initial Diversity House location in St Petersburg without adequate explanation in the build-up to the tournament

"The landlord was quite aggressive, saying he just doesn't want us there," Klymenko recalled.

"He first tried to cite some financial issues or legal issues but we had a valid agreement, we had paid the rent. It was basically nonsense.

"Obviously we can't find any direct evidence, but we think it was a result of some form of political pressure."

As the feelgood glow of an exceptional tournament began its slow fade on the morning after the night before, Pussy Riot claimed their four activists spent the night in custody without access to food, basic sleeping conditions or a lawyer.

It underlines the challenges for activists, even those operating in the more understated manner of Klymenko and his colleagues, in a country where increased visibility during the World Cup might come with a price.

"I would say there is hope but there is a danger as well," he added. "After seeing how beautiful and free it can be when the state takes a few steps back and allows people to freely express themselves, the hope is that after the World Cup, when the government might try to tighten the screws again, the people will go 'Well, we liked it as it was during the World Cup – why can't we have it in normal life?'.

"But, honestly, I don't think it is going to be easy. Our big worry is for the activists [who] we have been working with here in Russia, whether they will face any repercussions for that after the World Cup.

"We will keep in contact and keep working with them to prevent that from happening. But the danger is very vital."

Omnisport
NEWS
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