Ligue 1 players refuse to take part in anti-homophobia campaign
France’s Ligue 1 has been hit by controversy after players from Toulouse, Nantes and Guingamp refused to take the field wearing rainbow colours as part of a campaign against homophobia in football.
The French Professional League (LFP), the sports’ domestic governing body, had called for Ligue 1 players to wear a shirt with a rainbow-coloured number on the back at this weekend’s matches ahead of Wednesday’s International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.
Several Toulouse players were withdrawn from the squad for Sunday’s Ligue 1 game against Nantes after they refused to have their names associated the campaign, the club said.
France’s sports minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said clubs should sanction the players who did not take part in the campaign.
“I think it is the responsibility of the clubs to take sanctions,” she said. “During such an operation, which involves all the clubs on the basic subject of non-discrimination, you have to show up.”
Stonewall, the LGBTQ+ rights charity, said the incident highlighted why anti-homophobia campaigns are important in football.
“In 2023, it is sad that messages of LGBTQ+ inclusion, intended to represent LGBTQ+ fans and players, are still a contentious issue,” said Liz Ward, the director of programmes at Stonewall.
“We know that many football fans, from all parts of society, believe the game is for all - no matter your background or personal beliefs. In fact, over the last five years, the proportion of sports fans who think homophobic remarks in sport are acceptable has almost halved - from 25 per cent in 2017 to 14 per cent in 2022.
‘Despite this incredible progress, instances like this highlight why it’s so important for footballing bodies to continue to keep up the fight for inclusion. Together, we can create a better world where the football is truly everyone’s game.’
Inside the Parisian locker room. 👕🔴🔵#PSGACA 🔜 pic.twitter.com/usOEdA9deP
— Paris Saint-Germain (@PSG_English) May 13, 2023
Toulouse and Morocco defender Zakaria Aboukhlal said on Instagram that he did not want to take part in his team’s fixture against Nantes because of the campaign. “I have made the decision not to take part,” Aboukhal said.
“Respect is a value that I hold in great esteem. It extends to others, but it also encompasses respect for my own personal beliefs. Hence, I don’t believe I am the most suitable person for this campaign.
“I sincerely hope that my decision will be respected. Just as we all desire to be treated with respect.”
Elsewhere, Nantes midfielder Mostafa Mohamed decided not to take the field during their match in Toulouse, where he would have had to have the number on the back of his shirt in rainbow colours.
Mohamed was fined by his club for his refusal to play at a time when Nantes are fighting to remain in the French top flight, and the club and foundation pledged to donate the money to the association SOS Homophobie.
The French players’ union (UNFP), which supported the league’s campaign, said: “It is not up to the UNFP, when it comes to the private sphere, to dictate the conduct of players.”
The players’ union said it was “astonished” that the league asked players to convey “collective messages”.
The LFP and the French Footbal Federation (FFF) have not commented.
Last season, former Everton midfielder Idrissa Gueye reportedly refused to play in a match for Paris Saint-Germain against Montpellier for the second year running, with then-coach Mauricio Pochettino citing “personal reasons”.
It was reportedly to avoid wearing a rainbow symbol supporting LGBT+ rights. His decision was supported by Watford’s Ismaila Sarr and Crystal Palace’s Cheikhou Kouyate.
Information from Reuters contributed to this report