Pride in football this week as it embraces the political…
There is, or certainly it feels like there is, a changing tide in football right now. We’re talking baby steps here, but there is a growing sense that the direction of the wind has changed and the sails of the ship have billowed, altering the course – even if only slightly.
It’s a narrative (as all good news stories are these days) that begins with Manuel Neuer’s left arm, and takes us into a perhaps uncomfortable discussion about impartiality.
June is Pride month. If you’re not part of the LGBTQ+ community, then you’re probably more aware of that than ever before – largely because of the collision that has been the delayed European Championship, the German goalkeeper and a governing body that can’t help but run headlong into a PR disaster time and again.
In wearing a rainbow armband to show support for the LGBTQ+ community, Neuer was apparently making a political point. They launched an investigation, before quickly issuing a statement that the investigation had been dropped after quite the furore on social media.
The nameless spokesperson (which is media-speak for an official communication from a press office, signed off by the big-wigs) said: “UEFA looked into the armband worn by the player in question and, considering that it was promoting a good cause, ie diversity, the team will not face disciplinary proceedings.”
You know where the story goes from here: Hungary, a country that has very recently legislated against the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in material in schools or in media for under-18s, travelled to Munich to face Germany on Wednesday. The game almost became an afterthought in a midst of rainbow flags and an application to make the stadium light up in the Pride colours.
UEFA refused, describing the intentions as an act of politics aimed at the Hungarian government. They then later attempted to unmuddy the waters by lobbing a bucket of mud into the lake, by clarifying that “the rainbow is not a political symbol, but a sign of our firm commitment to a more diverse and inclusive society” and that the request was turned down because it “was political, linked to the Hungarian football team’s presence in the stadium”.
The problem here is that the display of the rainbow flag IS political. How can it not be? It’s a show of support for a group of people fighting for equal rights who are often victims of abuse, harassment and violence. It’s an indication that those wearing it and those displaying it support a push for equality and an end to discrimination, and it’s through politics where that change is made. According to the BBC, there are 69 countries where being LGBTQ+ is illegal.
But UEFA’s drive to remain neutral on this issue has led to a very uncomfortable position: Stay silent and you side with the bully. This isn’t something that remaining impartial works for; sometimes you just HAVE to pick a side.
Choose Neuer and the rainbow flag (which is – ironically – plastered over the UEFA logo on social media to support Pride month) and actually prove there is a desire to achieve an atmosphere that’s welcoming for non-straight supporters and players. Or stay silent and briefly attempt to silence that support, to allow a discriminatory atmosphere to brew.
This last year has been dominated by discourse over taking the knee. It’s an act that has been booed by fans, despite the very clear reasons given by those making that show of support that it is an anti-racism gesture. We can talk until the cows come home about how effective it is as a symbol and whether anything is being done behind the scenes as a result of the taking of the knee. But many of the players affected by racist attitudes and racist actions support it.
While that’s the case, to not support it and to remain silent is, again, to side with the status quo – a game where racism has been allowed to flourish.
Being black, being a part of an ethnic minority, being LGBTQ+ in itself is not political. But the treatment of those people is. UEFA can’t stay impartial on matters like these one moment and then say football is for everyone the next.
So when Neuer wears the armband in support of Pride, it actually means something to LGBTQ+ fans. It’s an act of defiance and support in an environment many of that community find hostile and unwelcoming. It’s even more heart-warming when others, like Antoine Griezmann and Leon Goretzka, speak out in support too.
— Leon Goretzka (@leongoretzka_) June 23, 2021
It’s not that long ago that the players would have stayed quiet and decided this wasn’t their fight. Football is for those that play the game and those that watch the game, and the players are starting to speak out about what they feel is right.
The ‘keep politics out of football’ brigade are loud when stories like this surface. Aside from the fact that nearly everything in football has a political element, those that want to push the politics to the back of their mind are often not the ones affected by the issues that are being addressed.
It’s easy to ignore racism when you’re white, just as it’s easy to ignore homophobia, biphobia and transphobia when you’re cisgender and straight. It’s wonderful to see some footballers take the more difficult path.
David Mooney – follow him on Twitter