It’s Pride Month; How Is Soccer Celebrating?

It is June 1, a day that across the world rings in a month of Pride celebration, visibility and advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights. These celebrations will surely make their way into the beautiful game. In soccer, pride month traditionally is accompanied by stadium “pride nights,” themed jerseys and fundraisers for equal rights organizations. Above all else, these celebrations are an affirmation that soccer should be inclusive of all. I would argue that such acceptance, at least philosophically, is the very nature of the sport. Self-expression is encouraged and contributes to the success of the team. Conversely, when players are not free to be their true selves on the pitch, the final product suffers. 

Soccer Pride Celebrations Commence

Across the world, a number of teams have bought into this message. MLS’s Austin FC, for example, will host its Pride Night match on June 27. In addition to auctioning off game worn jerseys, 20 percent of proceeds from sales of the club’s pride patch will be donated to the Austin LGBT Chamber of Commerce's Education Fund. The full schedule of MLS pride events can be found here

In Europe, Premier League players such as Conor Coady and Jordan Henderson have partnered with Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces Initiative, whose mission is to bring visibility to LGBTQ+ people in sport.

On the international level, U.S. Soccer pledged to auction game worn men’s and women’s jerseys and themed corner flags to benefit the You Can Play Project. 

The celebrations and advocacy are wonderful, welcome and represent tremendous growth in the soccer community. Pride month, however, is also an opportunity to identify areas we can continue to improve — as individuals, as a society and in football. 

Football Associations Flip-Flop On Pride

It was only a year ago that UEFA effectively banned the pride flag at Euro 2020 matches. In June 2021, UEFA denied a request to illuminate the Allianz Arena in rainbow colors when Germany took on Hungary due to the “political nature of the request.” Later in the tournament, UEFA banned any advertising featuring the rainbow flag at games in Russia and Azerbaijan, claiming such advertising would violate local laws. Both bans were accompanied by a UEFA investigation into Germany’s Manuel Neuer for wearing a rainbow armband during matches, though the investigation was eventually dropped.

In North America, Concacaf and FIFA have repeatedly declined to punish the Mexican Football Federation for the “p*to” chant, a gay slur that repeatedly echoes through stadiums.  

As we actively and excitedly anticipate the 2022 FIFA World Cup, this is a friendly reminder that homosexuality is still illegal in host nation Qatar. While Qatari officials have insisted that LGBTQ fans will be welcome at the tournament, senior security official Abdulaziz Abdullah Al Ansari claimed last month that rainbow flags or pro-LGBTQ merchandise may be confiscated for the protection of fans. 

“You want to demonstrate your view about the (LGBTQ) situation, demonstrate it in a society where it will be accepted,” said the major general to the Associated Press. 

FIFA and UEFA are powerful, wealthy organizations whose tournaments bring millions of dollars to host nations. Despite this power, the current trend among these organizations is to support human rights when it will boost merchandise sales or will not step on the toes of oppressive host nations. The associations have hesitated, though, to take any firmer stance. Punishing fans for homophobia and requiring host nations to support LGBTQ+ rights are well within the realm of possibility. Such actions would prove that in football, support for LGBTQ+ rights is not conditional. This pride month, let's hope that it isn’t. 

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