The Premier League’s phenomenal global reach is a major contributing factor to the impact of Rainbow Laces.
It’s difficult to quantify exactly how many people the LGBTQ+ inclusion campaign reaches worldwide but we do know the league itself is one of the UK’s most successful exports with an estimated TV audience in the billions.
Having two match rounds dedicated to Rainbow Laces, with all 20 clubs activating the initiative, provides a visibility prominence that is surely unrivalled in sports.
Add in the awareness generated through social media, and the capacity to spark conversations that can hope to reduce homophobia, biphobia and transphobia is enormous.
To get an idea of the influence, the Premier League has 183.5m followers across its Instagram, X, Facebook and TikTok channels, compared to the NFL’s combined following of 94.4m (interestingly, the NBA tops them both with 197.1m).
Communicating anything that’s LGBTQ-friendly on these platforms is tricky, to say the least — after all, there are still 66 countries where homosexuality is illegal, let alone frowned upon.
The challenges of putting together a successful social media strategy have been brought back into sharp focus after a professional rugby league player in Australia found himself making headlines for his reaction to a Rainbow Laces post on the Premier League’s Insta account.
The graphic, titled ‘How to Speak About LGBTQ+ Inclusion’, featured five recommended positive things to say that align with the Premier League’s support for the campaign. There were also four things not to say, which were negative sentiments.
All useful nuggets of advice, and nothing that went beyond a standard understanding of inclusion which any responsible sports club — certainly, in England where the Premier League is played — should have a grasp of.
The Premier League’s social media and advocacy teams know these posts will sadly bring some online hate into their comments sections but they believe in the importance of speaking up for LGBTQ+ people, many of whom are part of the workforces at the 20 member clubs as well as being supporters.
A comment made in response to the Premier League post by Australian rugby league player Adam Doueihi — “embarrassing post” — wasn’t hateful but as a well-known NRL athlete in his homeland (with a verified Insta account), it’s no surprise that it rapidly gained attention and encouraged more people to be homophobic.
After Doueihi’s comment reached more than 9,000 likes (the original PL post itself has over 90,000), the 25-year-old deleted it. It later emerged that his Sydney-based club West Tigers had asked the player to explain, presumably as he may have contravened its own social media policy.
No formal investigation has been started at the time of writing, while no statement has been issued on the websites or social media accounts of either the Tigers or the NRL.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald:
Doueihi told the club he perceived the post to be dictating what people could say to the LGBTQ community, which he found “embarrassing”.
He said he deleted his comment after realising it could have been misconstrued as homophobic.
A club representative told AAP the Tigers were an inclusive club that would remain a safe space for fans and players.
Two years ago, another Tigers player — Shawn Blore — was accused of being discriminatory after editing an image of a New Zealand dance troupe called House of Iman and uploading it to his Instagram story. He had swapped in a face of one of his teammates and surrounded the picture with laughing face emojis.
Earlier this year, during World Pride in Sydney in February, it emerged that 82 percent of NRL club heads surveyed about a league-wide Pride Round were against the idea. 57 percent said they were opposed to their clubs wearing Pride jerseys.
That followed on from the Manly Sea Eagles episode in July last year, when seven players from the NRL club chose not to play in a match rather than wear a special edition jersey that had a rainbow design.
The NRL’s own website has a dedicated LGBTQ page stating: “The NRL supports Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people and are vocal supporters of eliminating discrimination against LGBTI people both on and off the field.”
The club, which finished bottom of the NRL standings in 2023, averaged 15,591 fans at home games last season, an increase on the previous campaign but still lower than its pre-pandemic average.
Tigers employees and fans who are LGBTQ or allies, and their friends and family, will be hoping not just for an upturn in fortunes on the pitch in 2024.
No doubt they’d like to see the club’s reputation for being welcoming for all enhanced too. Whatever Doueihi’s intention might have been, his social media activity has suggested it’s “embarrassing” to speak about inclusion.
The third piece of advice on that Premier League Rainbow Laces post was: “How can we make sure everyone is included?” Not like that, anyway.