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Antidiscrimination Group Says St. Petersburg Has Shut Down Its Office

FIFA Secretary-General Fatma Samoura
FIFA Secretary-General Fatma Samoura

An umbrella group that campaigns against racism and antigay abuse in sports has accused the authorities in St. Petersburg of having shut down one of its “safe places” for the World Cup.

The Fare Network, which helps FIFA and UEFA investigate cases of discriminatory behavior by fans, on June 16 said permission to operate its "Diversity House" in the city had been withdrawn by building ownership on the eve of the soccer tournament’s June 14 opening.

“They asked us to go pretty rudely, turned off all the electricity, and gave no explanation,” said Yelena Belokurova, a St. Petersburg activist and a member of Cup for the People, which looks to ensure that benefits derived from the World Cup reach all members of Russian society.

The Fare Network said the site housed an exhibition, held meetings, events, and fan exchanges, and served as a "safe space" for minorities.

A similar Fare facility in Moscow was allowed to open, with representatives of the Russian government and FIFA attending.

“The way in which the Diversity House was closed down is familiar to organizations in St. Petersburg. They recognize it as the method through which the city authorities shut down activities which do not conform to their political outlook," Fare Executive Director Piara Powar said.

She said that “it seems to be clear that the project in St. Petersburg has been subject to a political attack of the kind that shows how debates about human rights are curtailed by powerful conservative political forces in Russia.”

She added that FIFA General-Secretary Fatma Samoura “has made high-level representations on our behalf, but to no avail."

FIFA said it was "in close contact with Fare" and "intervened with the authorities of St. Petersburg in an attempt to help find a solution."

Reuters reported that the St. Petersburg government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Fare said it plans to open new premises elsewhere in St. Petersburg.

On its website, the organization says it works in European countries, the United States, South Africa, St. Lucia, and Brazil.

With reporting by Reuters and The Guardian
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