Danielle van de Donk says Ellie Carpenter is her “person for life” after the soccer stars announced their engagement on social media.
The two club teammates, who started dating a few months after Van de Donk moved to Lyon from Arsenal in summer 2021, shared the news via Instagram on New Year’s Day from the Maldives, where they are on holiday.
Celebratory comments flooded in from the couple’s friends and the wider community of women’s football fans, who have seen four of Australia’s LGBTQ stars — Emily van Egmond, Katrina Gorry, Sam Kerr and now Carpenter — get engaged to their respective partners in recent months.
The quartet were all part of the Matildas squad that reached the semi-finals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup on home soil last August.
2023 was the year of tillies engaygments pic.twitter.com/YUDAUUxebV— naomi (@wosocharleeeees) January 1, 2024
There were at least 96 out LGBTQ players at the World Cup, putting the tournament’s lesbian representation within the 32 squads at over 13%. Van de Donk was part of the Netherlands team that reached the quarter-finals.
Carpenter, 23, has already won over 70 international caps in her career and holds the record of being the youngest-ever female footballer to have competed at an Olympic Games. She was just 15 when she participated in Rio in 2016.
Van de Donk, 32, has played 150 times for the Dutch. Her career highlights include their 2017 UEFA Women’s European Championship victory and their run two years later to the World Cup final, where they were beaten by the United States.
In an Instagram post from the previous day, Carpenter described the couple’s Maldives escape as “paradise”. The location for such happy news also serves as a reminder of the disparity in global LGBTQ rights.
Going into 2024, the South Asian country is one of 66 around the world where same-sex sexual activity is still criminalized.
Holidaymakers who are LGBTQ staying at private resorts in the popular tourist destination are highly unlikely to be challenged by the authorities, but for locals in a population of over 500,000 — both men and women — the threat of serious punishment remains.
The Human Dignity Trust states that the Maldives’ Penal Code 2014 “carries a maximum penalty of eight years’ imprisonment and 100 lashes” and that there is some evidence of LGBTQ people being arrested and facing discrimination in recent years. There are no protections in employment or other areas of society for members of the community living there.
In February 2020, British boxer April Hunter made a statement about the situation when she tweeted a holiday photo taken of herself kissing her girlfriend, with the caption: ‘Illegal to be gay in the Maldives and other Muslim countries still, in this day and age is mental, anyways this is our thought.’
As the popularity of women’s soccer and its star players grows at a rapid rate (Van de Donk has over 600,000 Instagram followers while Carpenter has in excess of 400,000), LGBTQ visibility in the sport will continue to be a talking point.
There is interest in hosting the Women’s World Cup in Saudi Arabia, perhaps as soon as 2035 — the year after the men’s tournament is due to be held there. The current Chelsea manager and USWNT head coach-in-waiting, Emma Hayes, is among those to have questioned the viability of such a proposition.
Given the context, it’s even more important that the women’s football community continues to celebrate love stories like that of Carpenter and Van de Donk, as the positive reactions demonstrate how inclusion is woven into the fabric of the sport.
“Let’s goooooo,” wrote Kerr in her Insta comment on the couple’s happy post. At a time when anti-LGBTQ attitudes are hardening in so many parts of the world, with politicians pushing back and activists in need of inspiration, a shared holiday snap showing love and joy has a deeper symbolism in the fight for progress.