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Morocco's 2026 World Cup bid masks country's homosexuality ban

Morocco's 2026 World Cup bid masks country's homosexuality ban
From ESPN - April 16, 2018

A FIFA task force arrived in Morocco on Monday to inspect a World Cup bid that obscures one potential impediment to hosting the 2026 showpiece: Homosexuality is a criminal offense in the north African country.

An Associated Press review of 483 pages of documents submitted to FIFA found Morocco failed to declare its anti-LGBT law as a risk factor and provide a remedy, appearing to flout stringent new bidding requirements.

FIFA has demonstrated a growing awareness in recent years of how rights abuses can impact its events, and FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura said last year that World Cups must be in environments free of "discrimination based on sexual orientation."

But under Article 489 of the Moroccan penal code, sexual acts between people of the same sex are punishable by six months to three years in prison.

"Under the new nondiscrimination requirements under FIFA's statutes and under the Human Rights Policy, one of the red lines is anti-gay activity laws or policies," Human Rights Watch director of global initiatives Minky Worden told the AP.

"Morocco, if they are serious about winning, would need to be prepared to repeal the article of the penal code which punishes people for being gay," she added.

Unlike when Russia and Qatar emerged victorious in the 2018-2022 FIFA bidding contest eight years ago, prospective hosts for the 2026 tournament were mandated to commission independent human rights reports and provide frank risk assessments that form part of the task force's evaluation.

While the United States-Canada-Mexico bid chose to publish its human rights documents, Morocco repeatedly refused requests from the AP to match the disclosure. The Morocco bid's international communications team also declined to provide any LGBT policy or how the criminalisation of same-sex relations would be addressed during a potential World Cup.

The AP was provided with the human rights annexes to Morocco's bid book by FIFA only after highlighting the north African nation's lack of transparency to the soccer world and the up to 207 member nations who will vote on the 2026 host on June 13.

There is a solitary passing reference to LGBT rights in the main 381-page bid book: A narrowly worded pledge by the Moroccan football federation to "work to combat all forms of discrimination" including "sexual orientation," signed by its president, Fouzi Leekjaa.

There is no mention of homosexuality being a criminal offense in the bid book, nor in the 27-page executive page executive summary.

Significantly, it is also omitted from the 33-page human rights strategy in which bids are meant to own up to shortcomings and provide a means of addressing them for World Cup visitors. The equivalent 90-page document from the rival North American bid features 20 mentions of "LGBTQI+" and eight references to "sexual orientation," pledging to use their leverage to reduce the risk of discrimination and harassment in Mexico and the U.S. in particular.

"It trips you up in a bid like this because then you are submitting documents that do not accurately reflect the human rights situation in your own country," Worden said. "And you have missed an opportunity to engage the stakeholders who will come back to criticise you if you do not uphold international human rights."

Morocco's only acknowledgement that homosexuality is outlawed comes within one sentence in a 42-page -- nominally independent -- "study on the human rights situation." Even then, the reference is ambiguous and implies the law might no longer be in place.

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