One of the highlights of this year’s Rainbow Laces campaign was the dialogue between athletes across the British sports world and their LGBTQ fan groups as part of the “Lace It Up and Speak Up” initiative.
A case in point is Tottenham Hotspur left-back Ben Davies, who recently took part in a discussion with the club’s LGBTQ supporters known as the Proud Lilywhites.
In addition to giving voice to the spirit of inclusion pervading the week, Davies addressed how the campaign gives him and his teammates an opportunity to have a voice in the fight against bigotry:
“The best way to stamp it out is to highlight it, to try and support the right causes, and make people aware of their biases and discrimination and [that] it’s really not acceptable in our society,” he said. “The club and us as players have a platform and speaking about it is the only way forward.”
Elsewhere in the Premier League, Leicester City fan group Foxes Pride hosted manager Brendan Rogers and players Jamie Vardy, James Maddison, Marc Albrighton, Youri Tielemans, and Jonny Evans to establish a deeper connection between LGBTQ fans and the players.
Foxes Pride co-chair Rishi Madlani reflected on how far his favorite team has come to SkySports’ Jon Holmes:
“Leicester City have been on such an incredible journey with us…A couple of years ago, SkySports helped us with an interview with first team players and this meeting at the training ground was the latest activation from the club.
“Engagement with our players has such an ability to change hearts and minds around this topic. Our heroes are our allies.”
When West Ham captain Mark Noble held a video conference with supporters from the Pride of Lions fan group, he made mention of how working alongside openly gay former Head of Player Care Hugo Scheckter helped foster a supportive environment in the locker room.
“When he first joined, he made us speak about it freely and it wasn’t an issue and made us all feel comfortable. Exactly that,” Noble said. “It opened my eyes a bit, to be honest, and we’re friends now and we still text.”
Noble also praised Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo for coming out and echoed the support that he received from his peers and fans. He also expressed regret that former West Ham player Thomas Hitzlsperger didn’t feel comfortable coming out until after he retired.
“I played with him,” Noble recalled, “and maybe if it was now, maybe he’d feel he could do so because the football world and the world in general is more accepting.”
Meetings like these have occurred throughout the entire Premier League. So while Mohamed Aboutrika has drawn headlines with his retrograde homophobic condemnations of Rainbow Laces, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of soccer players and clubs are in full support of the campaign.
And they’re using it to make sure that the voices of their LGBTQ fan groups are heard.