FRANCE: Should Muslim soccer players refusing to wear an anti-homophobia badge be sanctioned?

As it happened in 2022 and 2023, those who invoked “respect for their beliefs” are stigmatized and threatened. But the case is less simple than it may seem.

by Massimo Introvigne

Bitter Winter (21.05.2024) – It would be much easier to remain silent on a delicate case of conflict between two different human rights, freedom of religion or belief and the right of the LGBT persons not to be discriminated against and targeted by violence. Yet, the case is important and needs to be publicly discussed.

For the third consecutive year, in France the Football League has asked the players in the country’s top soccer championship, Ligue 1, to wear a rainbow badge on their shirts, this year in the games of May 18 and 19, to celebrate the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia. And, again for the third consecutive year, some Muslim players refused to participate in what they perceived as a promotion of homosexuality forbidden by their religion.

As he did last year, Mostafa Mohamed of FC Nantes refused to play. Mohamed Camara of AS Monaco did play, but covered with tape the rainbow badge. As he scored and celebrated, what he did became visible. Camara also refused to participate in a group photo celebrating the Anti-Homophobia Day. Other players who had boycotted the Day in 2023 probably did not change their mind as they were either injured, suspended, or no longer playing in France.

Even foreign sport newspapers, including in Italy, stigmatized the behavior of the Muslim players as “shameful.” Both the French Minister of Sport Amélie Oudéa-Castéra and the LGBT organizations called for sanctions.

Since pretty much everybody (including the undersigned) agrees that violence and discrimination against LGBT persons should not be tolerated, it would seem that the Minister and those who denounced the Muslim players who boycotted the Day, and called for sanctions, are right about a case that is basically simple.

In fact, it is less simple than it may seem. The players have been very careful in releasing statements where they expressed their respect for those with a different sexual orientation and stated that they do not promote or condone violence or discrimination. At the same time, they called for their religious beliefs to be also respected. It should also be noted that Mohamed and Camara are not French. Mohamed is Egyptian and Camara is Malian.

The two players, as did their Muslim colleagues in previous years, implied that they have no problems in condemning discrimination and violence, while wearing a badge with the rainbow symbol would have been tantamount to expressing their support for behaviors and lifestyles their religion does not approve of.

One question is whether their interpretation of the badge was correct. One of those who promoted the initiative stated that players were asked to “repudiate homophobia” rather than to “promote homosexuality.” However, the two players’ subjective perception of the badge was different.

France has a disturbing tendency to ideologize questions that could be solved peacefully with a modicum of common sense. Should those who promote discrimination and violence against the LGBT persons, or any other group, be condemned and sanctioned by the law—and by sport regulations if they do this while competing in professional sport? The answer is yes. Can wearing a badge internationally identified with LGBT activism be mandatorily imposed to all those who play in the French Ligue 1, including foreign players? Is the refusal to wear the badge equivalent to promotion of violence and discrimination, even when the players have stated that this was never their intention? Should the principle that the use of the badge is mandatory prevail on the freedom of religion or belief of players who claim that wearing the badge is against their religion? The answer is much less clear-cut, but my candid opinion, while admitting that the case is difficult and delicate, is that there would be good reasons to answer all the last three questions in the negative.

French Minister of Sport Amélie Oudéa-Castéra. Credits.

Further reading about FORB in France on HRWF website