Every year on the occasion of the international day against homophobia on 17 May, Ligue 1, which is the top French football league, organizes a series of initiatives to raise public awareness. Often, however, misunderstandings and protests also arise on this day, which make it difficult to manage, not only for the championship managers.
The last day of Ligue 1 was played last weekend. The teams used jerseys with numbers colored with the rainbow flag of the LGBT movement and before each game the players posed together behind the slogan chosen for the initiative: “Homosexual or straight, we all wear the same shirt”.
However, several players have chosen not to make themselves available for the weekend’s games, five of them only from Toulouse (Zakaria Aboukhlal, Moussa Diarra, Fares Chaibi, Logan Costa and Said Hamulic). The team had tried to explain their absence by writing that the players in question “had not made themselves available to associate their image with the colors of the LGBT movement”.
One of them, Moroccan international Zakaria Aboukhlal, later shared a message to better explain his decision: «I have the utmost consideration for every individual, regardless of personal preferences, gender or religion. Respect for me is very important and should be extended to others, but it also includes respect for my personal beliefs. So I don’t think I’m the most suitable person to support this campaign.”
The absence of these players, predominantly Muslims of African origin, has created a whole series of controversies and misunderstandings that are dragging into the public debate. Some believe that their absence is a matter of homophobia, while others have accused the associations defending LGBT rights of having reacted too timidly and of not having defended the initiative enough due to the indirect involvement of a minority , the Arab-Muslim one, where the theme in question is less shared than elsewhere.
There have also been reactions on a sporting level, given that some teams left without players due to the initiative are also at risk of relegation. Eric Roy, coach of Brest, he said for example, that making this initiative coincide with the last days of the championship was a “disastrous” choice, considering that in past years it had already led to several defections by Muslim players. Last season, for example, the absence of Idrissa Gueye from the Paris Saint-Germain squad caused a lot of discussion.
This year, the debate was further complicated by an affair involving Aboukhlal, the Toulouse player who had motivated his dissent towards the day against homophobia. In recent days RMC Sports in fact, he wrote that during the celebrations in the square for the team’s victory in the French Cup on April 29, Aboukhlal would have turned to the deputy mayor of Toulouse, who asked the players for a moment of silence, saying: «At my house the women they don’t talk to men like that.”
Toulouse is still trying to reconstruct the facts, but in the meantime, Tuesday He has decided to suspend the player on a precautionary basis. Meanwhile, France’s sports minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said teams should sanction players who did not take part in the initiative, as it was their duty to support it. However, the French players’ union rejected this request, as the players would not be obliged to transmit “collective messages”.