A row about rainbows has broken out in football. Paris St-Germain players wore brightly coloured numbers — a show of support for this week’s ‘International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia’. But one player was missing from the line-up: Idrissa Gueye.
PSG’s manager Mauricio Pochettino said that Gueye missed the game against Montpellier – which his team won 4-0 – for ‘personal reasons’. It has now emerged that he refused to play to avoid having to wear the rainbow symbol.
Was Gueye, a devout Muslim who regularly shares messages about his faith on social media, entitled to take such a stand? Senegal’s president Macky Sall thinks so. ‘I support Idrissa Gana Gueye,’ he said. ‘His religious convictions must be respected.’
The French Football Federation sees things differently. In a letter to Gueye, the FFF has reportedly called for him to ‘issue a public apology’ or to clarify that the rumours he refused to play are ‘unfounded’.
Gueye at least has the backing of some other players: Crystal Palace’s Cheikhou Kouyate and Watford’s Ismaila Sarr have posted in support of their Senegal teammate. ‘We wholeheartedly support you brother,’ said Gueye’s fellow midfielder Kouyate.
Now both Kouyate and Sarr are in trouble, too. Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira said: ‘We are against any form of discrimination’ and has confirmed he will talk to Kouyate. Meanwhile Watford has reiterated ‘its long-term commitment to…Equality Diversity and Inclusion values’.
The rainbow flag is big business — it is used by corporations to signal their support for LGBT rights. Banks change their logos to display the rainbow. Burger King once flogged a ‘pride whopper’ to celebrate LGBT customers.
Even Newcastle United players, who turn out each week for a club owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, wear rainbow laces. But how does this benefit the Saudi homosexuals facing the death penalty 4,000 miles away from St James’ Park? Do colourful shoelaces help Suhail al-Jameel, a gay Saudi social media influencer who was thrown into prison – and remains behind bars, nearly two years on – after he posted a topless picture of himself wearing leopard-print shorts?
As for Gueye, should we be angry at him for not playing in rainbow colours? Might it be better instead to direct our focus on his club, PSG, which is owned by Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar? Male homosexuality remains illegal in Qatar and the death penalty hangs over Muslims who engage in same-sex relations. At least one gay footballer has spoken out over his fears of playing in the World Cup later this year, which will be hosted by Qatar.
PSG has said that they are ‘very proud to wear this (rainbow) shirt’. ‘The biggest stars of world football were on the field on Saturday and expressed the club’s commitment to the fight against homophobia and all forms of discrimination,’ it added in a statement.
That ‘fight against homophobia’ should start with helping those who have been locked up for being gay, not hounding someone who refuses to play decked out in rainbow colours.