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French soccer player faces LGBT backlash

Idrissa Gueye abstained from a match that would have required him to wear a pro-LGBT jersey


Paris Saint-Germain soccer player Idrissa Gueye (left) plays in a match against Lorient during the French League One in Paris on April 3. Associated Press/Photo by Michel Euler

French soccer player faces LGBT backlash

A player in France’s top professional soccer league is under fire for refusing to wear a jersey bearing a rainbow-colored number as part of the league’s efforts to promote LGBT inclusivity.

Whether the league heeds calls from an LGBT advocacy group to sanction the player — and the severity of any sanctions the league might choose — remained to be seen Friday.

Idrissa Gueye is a midfielder for Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), the star-studded, first-place team in France’s Ligue 1. A Muslim, Gueye hails from the Islamic African country of Senegal, where homosexuality is punishable by up to five years in prison (though prosecutions were rare before this year, according to ABC News). Like many Christians, some stricter Muslims believe God intended marriage only as the union of one man and one woman.

On May 14, the. PSG team traveled to southern France to play Montpellier in a match in which the players were asked to wear jerseys featuring rainbow-colored numbers, an homage to the LGBT “pride” flag.

Though Gueye traveled with PSG to the match, he did not participate in the club’s 4-0 triumph. PSG’s other international superstars — most notably Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Brazil’s Neymar — did.

PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino cited “personal reasons” when explaining Gueye’s absence from the pitch. The president of the French soccer federation’s ethics council, Patrick Anton, sent the player a letter asking him to clarify why he missed the game. “Your absence has led to many speculations that have been very widely interpreted as a refusal to take part in this operation to raise awareness of the fight against discrimination,” Anton wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Associated Press. Anton further suggested Gueye take a picture of himself wearing the rainbow jersey.

Gueye’s predicament is reminiscent of that of Jaelene Daniels (formerly Hinkle), a defender for the North Carolina Courage of the National Women’s Soccer League. A devout Christian, Daniels famously made headlines in 2017 when she declined an invitation to compete for the U.S. women’s national team, which would have worn gay pride–themed jerseys with rainbow-colored numbers in international “friendlies” (basically, glorified exhibition matches).

Daniels cited “personal reasons” for her decision not to join the national team, a perennial power on the world stage. Many journalists speculated Daniels’ Christian faith was behind her decision, although she didn’t confirm it until roughly a year later, during a TV interview with The 700 Club. “I felt so convicted in my spirit that it wasn’t my job to wear this jersey,” Hinkle told the faith-based news program.

Gueye’s religion differs from Daniels’, but the condemnation his decision has sparked is virtually the same. 

“Homophobia is not an opinion but a crime,” said Rouge Direct, an organization devoted to combating bigotry in French sports. It called on Ligue 1 and PSG to “ask Gueye to explain himself and very quickly. And punish him if necessary.”

Eric Arassus, the president of France LGBT+ Sports Federation, agreed: “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.”

But Senegalese leaders, past and present, have expressed their support for Gueye. “His religious convictions must be respected,” tweeted the country’s president, Macky Sall.

Abdoul Mbaye, Senegal’s former prime minister, said likewise, declaring that Gueye “is not homophobic. He does not want his image to be used to promote homosexuality. Leave him alone.”

British news commentator Piers Morgan also defended Gueye in London’s newspaper The Sun. While hailing British soccer player Jake Daniels as “bold, courageous and inspiring” for coming out as gay in the days following what Morgan called Gueye’s “silent stand,” Morgan also called on fans to demonstrate religious tolerance toward Gueye.

“If Gueye was publicly ranting homophobic bigotry, that would be appalling, and he should be punished,” Morgan wrote. “But he hasn’t done that, and he shouldn’t be forced to promote something he might not personally agree with nor be punished for exercising his right to free speech by opting not to wear rainbow colours.”

Morgan also called PSG’s participation in the pro-LGBT match “hypocritical.”

“PSG is owned by the Emir of Qatar where it’s illegal to be gay and Muslims like Gueye can be executed for it,” he wrote.

PSG’s next match is scheduled for Saturday against Metz at PSG’s home field. Neither PSG nor Ligue 1 has indicated whether Gueye will play.

If he does, though, he might get the same reception Jaelene Daniels got in her first match following her 700 Club interview. Pro-LGBT fans of both clubs booed her every time she touched the ball.


Ray Hacke

Ray is a sports correspondent for WORLD Magazine. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and Syracuse University School of Journalism, and he has been a sports reporter for 25 years. He is also a licensed attorney. Ray resides with his wife, Pauline, and daughter in Keizer, Ore.

@RayHacke43

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