President says gay rights advocates ‘should go to hell’ after football row

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A homophobia row has broken out following demands by world football governing body FIFA.

The organisation is attempting to enforce rules that stop discrimination based on sexual orientation.

But the rules have caused a furious row about Christianity and homosexuality in Zambia, where the rules are being fiercely resisted.

Church leaders, politicians and bosses at the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) are arguing against the rules.

“Zambia is a Christian nation and any instructions from FIFA which will conflict with Christianity are not welcome,” former FAZ executive committee member Masha Chilemena said.

“The FAZ cannot go against what is stipulated in the law of the land.

“If FIFA is to impose sanctions on Zambia, we will play in the local league.”

Zambian President Edgar Lungu, who was re-elected last year, said: “Those advocating gay rights should go to hell… That issue is foreign to this country,” after the arrest of two Zambian gay men in 2013.

The draft constitution circulated by FAZ, to fit in line with FIFA rules, reads: “Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.”

FIFA previously issued bigger fines to UK football associations for wearing poppies than it did for homophobic chants at games.

Same-sex sexual activity is strictly prohibited in Zambia, carrying prison sentences of up to 14 years.

FIFA rules mean players can be suspended or expelled from football for discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The move by football bosses comes after FIFA punished seven national teams for homophobic chants used at international tournaments.

Landilani Banda, a lecturer at the University of Zambia, told the BBC the new FAZ constitution doesn’t undermine the country’s own rules around homosexuality.

“The position is that the law in Zambia does not criminalise homosexuality. What the law criminalises is sodomy which is termed as ‘offences against the order of nature.’

“Sodomy is 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,” said Banda.

“The Fifa position is in line with international human rights standards which prohibit discrimination on the basis on sexual orientation. Zambia should also be bound by these same standards.”

The Zambian government has refused to fully decriminalise homosexuality as recently as 2014, calling it an “affront to Christianity and the constitution.”