San Jose Earthquakes central defender Guram Kashia was honored with the inaugural UEFA #EqualGame Award on Wednesday for his public stand for the LGBTQ community while with Dutch club SBV Vitesse last season.
Kashia, 31, wore a rainbow captain’s armband with Vitesse along with other captains in the Dutch top division. Unlike most of his fellow captains, Kashia faced harsh criticism, threats and abuse back home in his native Georgia. Nonetheless, he took a stand for equality, despite calls for him to step down from the national team.
"I am honoured that UEFA has picked me as the recipient of the #EqualGame Award. I believe in equality for everyone, no matter what you believe in, who you love or who you are.”Guram Kashia
— UEFA (@UEFA) August 22, 2018
Guram Kashia was born in Tbilisi, Georgia, where he grew up in the academy of Dinamo Tbilisi, one of the country’s most prominent clubs. After making more than 100 appearances with the Blue-White, Kashia moved to the Netherlands, where he played for eight seasons, some alongside U.S. defender Matt Miazga.
In June, Kashia transferred to San Jose, where he joined fellow Georgia national team player Valeri Qazaishvili in Major League Soccer.
Kashia has made 65 appearances for the Georgia national team, was twice named Georgia Footballer of the Year and has captained the national side.
When not being invaded by Russia (as recently as 10 years ago), Georgia is a strongly religious country, with more than 80 percent of the population practicing Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Many — but not all — in Georgia decried Kashia's stance on equality, but the footballer stood firm.
— San Jose Earthquakes (@SJEarthquakes) August 22, 2018
“Even though his actions sparked threats and abuse from many groups, he preached tolerance and acceptance and helped change perceptions of this minority group in his native country of Georgia,” UEFA President Alexander Čeferin said of Kashia.
A cynic might suggest this award could have gone to someone who faced more direct abuse for supporting equality rather than one of many captains who wore such armbands. But the award in itself is a positive for UEFA to promote equality through sport.
And for the trolls on Facebook who will try to say this is a political story, let me remind you that civil rights are not a political issue, they’re a human issue. Freedom from persecution based on ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, social background or religious beliefs should be a fundamental, unalienable right, not something determined by politicians.