Soccer is for everyone, or so we’re told

Atlético Ottawa has announced their schedule of themes for their home game matches including matches honouring first responders, raising money for Ukraine, and even a beach-themed game. The one that stuck out the most for me however is the “Soccer is for Everyone” match on August 27th. The name and promo photo immediately call to mind the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” campaign which puts forward hockey as a sport for everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, however, it is the pride tape initiative which is most recognizable. Atleti seems to have taken inspiration from the NHL and wishes to make certain that lgbtq+ fans feel welcome at their games. Their desire to be such a visible ally is certainly admirable, especially as a professional Canadian club, but as a queer soccer fan myself I hope to see more support across the league, especially since this game is but a bright sport in a dark cloud of homophobia that surrounds the sport.

The Canadian Women’s soccer team made history this past Summer with their gold medal win, not only was this Canada’s first Olympic Gold in Women’s Soccer but it also included the first Olympic medal ever won by a trans athlete. Quinn, who was 25 at the time Canada won gold, is an openly trans, nonbinary athlete who was joined by four out teammates including Canada’s Minister of National Defense Stefanie Labbé. They were all led by their coach Bev Priestman who married her wife former team New Zealand midfielder Emma Humphries in 2016. Canada is far from the only national women’s soccer team to have openly gay athletes, team USA’s famous winger Megan Rapinoe came out as lesbian back in 2012. If lgbtq+ athletes’ successes on women’s national teams seem to suggest an increased acceptance of queer athletes the men’s half of the sport paints a much different picture. Not a single senior men’s national team has ever fielded an out player. The closest we have come is Josh Cavallo who played for Australia on their men’s U20 team, although he was not out at the time. Since coming out Josh Cavallo has faced homophobic chants from rival fans and in a notable incident had slurs hurled at him as he left the pitch in a 1-1 draw against Melbourne Victory.

There has been little done by organizers such as FIFA to promote a more accepting game or punish homophobia by players and fans. Fans of Mexico’s men’s national team have been making headlines for several years now for their use of an anti-gay slur. In October during Canada’s match against Mexico at the Azteca, the game was stopped in the 59th minute due to excessive use of the slur as dictated by FIFA’s three-step plan for combating its use. If use had persisted, the next step would have been to move the players to the locker room and suspend the match. If even then the chant continued the game would have been abandoned and a win awarded to Canada. This is not the first time a Mexico match has been stopped due to homophobic chants, at a Gold Cup game against Trinidad and Tobago in July 2021 a game was stopped due to Mexico fans chanting a homophobic slur. The Mexican National Team was actually supposed to play the match against Canada behind closed doors as a punishment for the use of the homophobic slur however FIFA allowed them to count one of the Women’s National Team matches towards their punishment.

At the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, there were 51 disciplinary actions launched due to homophobia, this does not surprise me as homophobic incidents have increased in Russia since passing a law in 2013 that prohibited any pro-gay “propaganda” which for all intents and purposes includes gay people living their lives openly. Before the World Cup even began, a gay French couple was hospitalized after a homophobic attack in the streets of St. Petersburg. FIFA seems to desire to one-up themselves as the FIFA World Cup is set to begin in November in Qatar, a country where homosexuality, simply the act of being a gay person is illegal and punishable by up to seven years in prison or if you are Muslim, death. What message is FIFA sending to young gay athletes who may dream of playing for their national teams when they hold their biggest competition in countries that deem their mere existence to be illegal.

We cannot force gay players to compete in a sport that has shown itself to be openly hostile to their participation, but Atlético Ottawa is sending a clear message by hosting a “Soccer is for Everyone” match. They are saying “we see you, we value you, and we want you to know you belong”. Additionally, at every CPL match, I have watched on One Soccer or attended in person I have noticed fans flying pride flags such as the rainbow flag and trans pride flag. These are small actions in the grand scheme of the sport but it shows that there are teams and fans that want to make a difference.

Feature Image Credit: Colorado Rapids