You might recognize Magdalena Eriksson and Pernille Harder from the photo above in which Eriksson kissed Harder after helping Sweden defeat Canada in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The picture gained the couple viral fame, and now they’re using that fame to advocate for LGBTQ acceptance in soccer.
Both Eriksson and Harder are also two of roughly 100 professional sports athletes donating 1% of their annual salaries to Play Proud, an initiative that “aims to equip coaches and mentors with the skills and knowledge to establish safe spaces and guided LGBTQ+ adolescents to participate in sports at the youth-level with confidence.”
The couple are encouraging other pro sports athletes to donate 1% of their salaries as well.
Here is their video interview with The Guardian:
Regarding their viral photo, Harder recently told The Guardian, “I didn’t even know about the picture before I suddenly had 3,000 more followers on Instagram. I was like, ‘What happened here?’? Then I saw the picture, and I was like, crazy.”
“The image’s power came from its sheer rarity,” The Guardian wrote. “A gay, high-profile sporting couple showing their love in public without the slightest abashment.”
Eriksson said, “I think that’s when I felt the demand for role models in that way, because of how big it was and how many people wrote to me on Instagram saying they looked up to us and how much we’d helped them. That’s when I understood that we’re really powerful together. Before, we hadn’t really seen ourselves as that.”
Their newfound fame made them realize they could serve as role models to help make their sport more inclusive to LGBTQ players.
Eriksson said, “If football clubs talked about [accepting LGBTQ players] more, that it’s normal, it would be easier for everyone to just be themselves.”
Harder added, “That’s where Play Proud is such a good initiative because they educate the coaches and and the environments in the team to be more accepting and to talk more about it. Everyone feels like they can be themselves. They don’t stop playing because of their sexuality or their background or [feeling] that football isn’t an open environment for everyone.”
While soccer is arguably the most popular and internationally played sport, queerphobia still undoubtedly leaves some players feeling left out of the game. A 2015 survey of 9,500 athletes from six English-speaking countries found 83% of males and 63% of females stayed partially or completely closeted while playing youth sports over fears of discrimination.
Harder and Eriksson’s contribution could help reduce athletic anti-LGBTQ stigma, at least in one field.