I LOVE rainbows.
They appear after violent storms, shining out across the sky like a natural kaleidoscope of soothing calm.
But in the past few days, it’s been a rainbow which has ignited a firestorm in the world of football.
quando Paris Saint-Germain played a French league match against Montpellier last Saturday, the whole team including superstars Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar wore rainbow colours on their shirts to mark Tuesday’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.
African midfielder Idrissa Gueye, who is a devout Muslim – strict forms of Islam don’t tolerate homosexuality – didn’t play because he didn’t want to wear the rainbow colours which were first created in the ‘70s as a symbol of pride and tolerance for the gay community.
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And as a result, all hell broke loose.
Rouge Direct, a French association fighting bigotry in sport, dichiarato: ‘Homophobia is not an opinion but a crime. The League and PSG must ask Gueye to explain himself and very quickly. And punish him if necessary.’
The president of France LGBT+ Sports Federation, Eric Arassus, disse: ‘Idrissa Gueye is a great player, but religion is not a part of the sport. Every player took part except him. He should be sanctioned. Gueye’s excuses show that the club [PSG] and League let homophobia happen.’
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And if religion is not a part of sport, why is sexuality?
A few days after Gueye made his silent stand, a young Blackpool striker Jake Daniels made a very different one by becoming the first current British footballer to come out as gay and speak about it.
I thought that was very bold, courageous and inspiring.
But I also think Gueye is entitled to decide whether he wishes to wear rainbow colours.
He comes from Senegal, where homosexuality is illegal and can result in five years imprisonment, and where 97% of the people, secondo a 2013 PEW Global Attitudes Poll, believe homosexuality is a way of life that society shouldn’t accept.
Like me, you may find this horrifyingly bigoted.
But that is the culture Gueye grew up in.
Senegal president Macky Sall tweeted his support for Gueye and said the midfielder’s Muslim beliefs must be respected.
Former Senegalese prime minister Abdoul Mbaye also backed him, saying he ‘is not homophobic. He does not want his image to be used to promote homosexuality.’
And Gueye’s fellow Senaglese players Cheikhou Kouyate and Ismaila Sarr, who play for Palazzo di cristallo e Watford rispettivamente, posted their solidarity, prompting their concerned clubs to say they will speak to them as a matter of urgency.
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Perché? I’ve no idea if Gueye is homophobic or not, but he’s not said anything publicly to suggest he is.
And there’s a stunning amount of hypocrisy about this issue.
PSG have stated the club is ‘very proud to wear this shirt’ and which they said expressed the club’s ‘commitment to the fight against homophobia and all forms of discrimination.’
PSG is owned by the Emir of Qatar where it’s illegal to be gay and Muslims like Gueye can be executed for it.
Allo stesso modo, Newcastle tweeted its support for Jake Daniels, and its players wear rainbow laces, but the club is owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, and it’s also illegal to be gay in Saudi Arabia.
If Gueye was publicly ranting homophobic bigotry, that would be appalling, and he should be punished.
But he hasn’t done that, and he shouldn’t be forced to promote something he might not personally agree with nor punished for exercising his right to free speech by opting not to wear rainbow colours.
I felt the same about footballers taking the knee to make a stand against racial injustice after the shameful police murder of George Floyd in America.
My view was that if players wanted to do it then they should be respected not abused, and largely, they have. I’ve heard only loud applause and no booing when Arsenale, who have many black players, do it before each home game.
But I also respect teams or individual players who choose not to kneel.
Crystal Palace star Wilfred Zaha stopped taking the knee because he found it ‘degrading’ and he wanted to ‘stand tall’ instead.
Brentford’s players stopped taking the knee after deciding the gesture ‘no longer’ has impact.
And last September, QPR’s black director of football, Les Ferdinand agreed, comparing it to ‘a fancy hashtag or a nice pin badge.’
I get that.
Allo stesso modo, when Wigan and Republic of Ireland star James McClean refused to wear a poppy to commemorate Britain’s war dead, my first reaction was to be angry.
But then I listened to his explanation.
McClean grew up in Derry’s Creggan estate, the same place that was home to six of the 14 unarmed civilians shot dead by British soldiers on Bloody Sunday in 1972 in one of the most infamous moments of the lengthy Troubles.
Egli ha detto: ‘If the poppy was simply about World War One and Two victims alone, I’d wear it without a problem. I would wear it every day of the year if that was the thing, but it doesn’t. It stands for all the conflicts that Britain has been involved in. Because of the history where I come from in Derry, I cannot wear something that represents that. I would ask people to be respectful of the choice I have made, just as I’m respectful of people who do choose to wear a poppy.’
I can both understand and respect his opinion.
And frankly, I was angrier when FIFA outrageously banned players from wearing poppies.
The bottom line is that free speech should allow footballers, and anyone else for that matter, to decide what political or social issues they wish to publicly support.
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They should be respected for whatever decision they take, even if it’s not a popular one.
As Dolly Parton once put it: “The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”