The XX Factor

FIFA Should Speak Up About Homophobia

Nigerian women’s soccer coach Eucharia Uche is proud of herself. As soccer players from around the world are getting ready for the kick-off of the FIFA Women’s World Cup this Sunday in Germany, Uche is saying that she has managed to “control and curb”  lesbianism on her team, reports the New York Times .

“Some of them go as far as renting rooms in hotels around the team’s campsite where they go to satisfy their orgy,” Uche complained to Nigerian newspaper the Daily News earlier this year. “It’s a serious development that has been detrimental to the team’s growth and performance.” (She told the Times , however, that she had never personally witnessed any homosexual activity, but believed the “strong” rumors about it.)

But now, Uche says, her players have ceased engaging in such practices, thanks to the Pentecostal ministers she brings in to pray with them for a “divine intervention.” The chief media officer for the Nigeria Football Federation confirmed in March that those “who indulge in the nasty act” have promised to stop, and that measures to “ensure they keep to their promises” have been put in place.

FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, claims that “discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of ethnic origin, gender, language, religion, politics or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.” Yet all FIFA has had to say about the discrimination against lesbian Nigerian players is that it cannot comment, as no official complaint has been filed.

On other social issues, FIFA is far less ambivalent. The organization has been actively fighting racism for decades. It expelled apartheid South Africa from the Cup in 1961 and only readmitted the country after Nelson Mandela was released. FIFA also started a campaign called ” Say No to Racism ” and passed the Buenos Aires Resolution against racism in 2001. With the resolution’s 10th anniversary approaching, FIFA has been featuring inspirational anti-racism interviews on its website.

But Joanie Evans, co-president of the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association, told the New York Times that FIFA just doesn’t fight homophobia as forcefully as racism.

“Racism is a devil,” said FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter at an anti-racism event during the 2006 men’s World Cup. “There is a social responsibility in football, and our game is open to everyone-all genders, all races, all cultures.” Homophobia is just another type of discrimination. FIFA has previously banned racist administrators , fans , players , coaches, and referees. Maybe it is time for it to be consistent.