How Professional Soccer Is Fighting Homophobia In Zambia

Can a love of sports trump hatred?

FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, is in a unique position to place pressure on homophobic countries to improve treatment of LGBT citizens.

Soccer unites countries—and even continents—and can have more sway than resolutions or threats to cut off aid.

(Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

In Zambia, where same-sex acts are punishable by up to 14 years in prison, the national football federation is balking about incorporating FIFA’s anti-bias policy, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

While members of the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) say that would put them at odds with Zambian law, a human rights activist has found a loophole.

Zambia national football team captain Christopher Katongo (Bottom C) kisses the 2012 African Cup of Nations trophy during an awards ceremony following the African Cup of Nations final football match between Ivory Coast and Zambia, on February 11, 2012, at the stade de l'Amitie in Libreville, as Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (R) and FIFA President Sepp Blatter (L) look on. Zambia won the match during the final penalty shootout. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE        (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)
FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

“The law in Zambia does not criminalize homosexuality,”professor Landilani Banda told the BBC.

“What the law criminalizes is sodomy… when a person has sexual intercourse with a person of the same sex. In light of the above it’s perfectly alright for FAZ to include a clause which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

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Of course, even if Banda convinces the federation to sign, it would be a small victory in a country where only 2% of the population think homosexuality is morally acceptable.

In 2013, First Lady Christine Kaseba said “the silence around issues of men who have sex with men should be stopped and no one should be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation.”

FIFA has been criticized for scheduling the next two World Cups in Russia and Qatar, two countries with poor records on LGBT rights.

For more on international LGBT rights, visit Logo’s Global Ally page.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.
@ItsDanAvery