Fifa urged to pressure Russia and Qatar over anti-gay legislation • Russia and Qatar are 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts • Fifa's anti-discrimination taskforce call for action Owen Gibson in Buenos Aires; The Guardian, Sunday 8 September 2013 20.08 BST Fifa's new anti-discrimination taskforce is to urge football's world governing body to pressure Russia and Qatar, the World Cup hosts in 2018 and 2022, to relax anti-gay legislation. The Russian government has recently come under pressure, with some calling for a boycott of next year's Sochi Winter Olympics over laws that punish the promotion of homosexuality. In Qatar, homosexuality is illegal. The Fifa president Sepp Blatter, who refused to comment on the issue at the IOC session in Buenos Aires, sparked an outcry in 2011 when he said gay people should "refrain from sexual activity" during the 2022 World Cup. Piara Powar, the director of Football Against Racism in Europe and a member of the taskforce along with the former FA chairman David Bernstein, said it would raise the issue at a meeting this week. "Qatar is one of the few countries where homosexuality is still illegal and there are also big challenges in terms of the new law in Russia in regard to the World Cup," he said. "Qatar wants to host the tournament at the start of a new decade, they will want to present an internationally welcoming face and with Fifa's help we are sure it will be possible to win over the Qataris so that they come into line with the rest of the world, including other countries in the Gulf and Middle East and change the law on homosexuality. "These are issues of civil rights, fans and players of all races, religions and sexuality need to feel comfortable going to the World Cups in both Russia and Qatar. It is going to be quite a challenge but we have to make sure that football becomes the vehicle for social change that we claim it is. This is a big issue." The taskforce, chaired by the Concacaf president, Jeffrey Webb, was set up last year in response to growing calls for football to do more to advance the anti-discrimination agenda and amid concerns over a string of incidents in the game. Some of the most strident defence for Russia's new laws, which outlaw gay "propaganda", has come from Alexey Sorokin, the head of the 2018 World Cup organising committee. Sorokin sparked outrage when he appeared to compare homosexuality to Nazism and added: "Would you like a World Cup where naked people are running around displaying their homosexuality? The answer to that is quite obvious." The IOC has already sought assurances from the Russian government over how the laws will be implemented during the Sochi Games, amid widespread concern. "We have received strong written reassurances from Russia that everyone will be welcome in Sochi regardless of their sexual orientation," the IOC president Jacques Rogge claimed last month.
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