SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 6: Sheffield United’s Anel Ahmedhodzic in action during the Premier League match between Sheffield United and Liverpool FC at Bramall Lane on December 6, 2023 in Sheffield, England. (Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images) | CameraSport via Getty Images

There’s been a lot of speculation in the last few days regarding the absence of a rainbow captain’s armband in a recent Premier League match.

Outsports reported on the story following the game in question — Sheffield United vs Liverpool last Wednesday — having spotted that Bosnian media had picked up on the news.

Anel Ahmedhodzic, who was captaining Sheffield United on the night, is a Bosnia and Herzegovina international defender. It was the first time he had led the team.

He wore a standard-issue armband instead of the rainbow version, which other captains were using for two rounds of fixtures as part of the annual activation of the Rainbow Laces campaign for LGBTQ inclusion in sport.

Ahmedhodzic and Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk (right) watch on as referee Simon Hooper shows a yellow card to Wataru Endo last Wednesday.

In the last couple of days, several more media outlets in the U.K. and abroad have run articles on this talking point.

No explanation has been provided by the player or his club as to why the rainbow armband was absent on Ahmedhodzic for the Liverpool match. His teammate Oliver Norwood had worn it for the Blades’ previous game.

On Saturday, SVT Sport in Sweden provided an update that further fuels the mystery.

Ahmedhodzic is Swedish by birth, having been born in Malmo, just across the strait from Copenhagen, Denmark. The 24-year-old played for Sweden national teams up to senior level before switching his national allegiance to Bosnia in 2020.

The broadcaster’s website reported:

When SVT Sport asks Ahmedhodzic why he didn’t wear the armband, he replies “Guess” in a text message and then nothing more to further questions.

Outsports has also taken a search through several Bosnian sports news websites but is yet to find any more quotes from the 24-year-old.

He has, however, posted to his social media accounts.

After the Liverpool game, Ahmedhodzic wrote on Instagram: “Big honour to captain for the first time in my career last night. Much better performance from the team, something to build on. Looking forward to the next game. Alhamdulillah”

On Saturday, Sheffield United beat Brentford 1-0 with the Bosnian again chosen as captain. He posted to X and Instagram: “Big & important win today! Passion & hard work was shown, we keep building on these performances”

The comments and replies on the posts include several that feature heart emojis in rainbow colors, while some have written messages on the platform thanking the defender for not wearing the rainbow armband.

One user on X wrote: “Fairplay to @Anelswe for putting his religion (islam) first and not accepting to wear a rainbow armband unlike other muslims in the past (xhaka and gündogan)”

Former Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka got behind the campaign by wearing the armband in December 2018, while Ilkay Gundogan had it on when leading Manchester City against West Ham in November 2021.

Ahmedhodzic has in fact worn a rainbow on his kit before. In May 2022, when he was out on loan at Bordeaux, all players who took part in a round of French Ligue 1 games had rainbow numbers on their shirts as part of an anti-discrimination drive linked to the International Day Against Homophobia.

When Outsports asked Sheffield United for a comment about the missing armband in midweek, a spokesperson for the Premier League club listed several ways it had helped to activate Rainbow Laces, and said: “It was our understanding that clubs could make their own decision with regards to how to support the campaign.”

Meanwhile, the club’s LGBTQ and allies fans group, Rainbow Blades, said it was “naturally disheartened” that Ahmedhodzic had not worn the armband, adding: “We are in dialogue with the club about the importance of visual allyship.”

The campaign is run by the charity Stonewall, which is the oldest and biggest LGBTQ organization of its kind in Europe. For 10 years, it has been inviting British soccer players to take part, at first to demonstrate allyship towards gay footballers and later to support inclusion more broadly.

The rainbow armbands have been in use by captains since 2016 to bring more visibility on the field. Some players have worn the laces in their boots on occasions during the annual campaign activation period, but the vast majority of professionals do not.

Match officials are much more likely to take part. The referee in the Sheffield United vs Liverpool game, Simon Hooper, was wearing Rainbow Laces in his boots during the game.

Emphasizing to Outsports that “participation is not mandatory” for players, Sasha Misra from the charity said: “Allyship from top athletes matters, but we know there are many complex and valid reasons why an athlete may not feel in a position to openly support the campaign.

“But we have shown over the last decade, through visibility and powerful stories, that LGBTQ+ support can and should transcend politics, borders and religion.”

Whatever the reasons behind Ahmedhodzic’s avoidance towards the rainbow armband, his terse response to SVT Sport suggests he’s not yet ready to share.

The situation has saddened some LGBTQ supporters of Sheffield United and the uncertainty surrounding it is only likely to prolong that feeling, especially with Ahmedhodzic having retained the armband in recognition of his leadership qualities.

Does he hold a view on inclusion? What are his values and do they align with those of his club? Until some clarity is provided, all that people can do is “guess”.

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