Since the American football quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, began to take a knee to protest police brutality on unarmed black Americans, a clearer image of the free society aggressively marketed by the West has come under scrutiny. He was fiercely ostracized and rejected by those who ought to buy his dream—the freedom of the blacks in America. The refusal and reluctance of other athletes to participate in that campaign to underline the human rights of a people abused across centuries were documented, and this sparked a debate across the world.
Those who objected to taking the knee became the new heroes, and, if one was in doubt of the obvious disinterest in fighting anti-black racism, the events of the UEFA EURO 2020 tournaments were a convincing experience. In a warm-up match between Romania and England, two Romanian players refused to take a knee on the pitch. Nicolae Stanciu and Ionuț Nedelcearu found the courage to stand tall as their twenty professional colleagues or nine countrymen were booed by spectators in disapproval of that show of solidarity with the campaign against racism in football and Europe.
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Stanciu would later defend his refusal to take the knee as tacit support for his club teammate Ondrej Kudela –the Czech footballer who had received a 10-game ban for racial abuse against Glen Kamara, a black and Rangers player, in the Europa League. The Romanian was more hurt that his fellow white man accused of racism was missing his country’s EURO Championship campaign than the fact that a horrid case of racism had been established against Kundela after a formal investigation.
The audacious stance against taking the knee drew moral support beyond the fancy stadia of Europe. The politicians too participated in endorsing such right to withdraw from virtue-signaling fads or causes to promote. The UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, was one of such. She argued against “people participating in that type of gesture politics,” and when reminded of the fan who booed England players for taking the knee, her response was pithy and unequivocal: “That’s a choice for them, quite frankly”.
The choice granted players who always refuse to participate in the campaign against racism has, unfortunately, been denied Senegalese midfielder, Idrissa Gana Gueye, who plays for the French club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). Gueye refused to wear the club’s branded jersey designed for LGBTQ+ advocacy, which doesn’t align with his faith as a devout Muslim, and this has sparked outrage across every crevice of Western society.
“Idrissa Gueye is a great player, but religion is not a part of the sport,” said the President of France LGBT+ Sports Federation, Eric Arassus. “Every player took part except him,” he said, and that Gueye “should be sanctioned” because his “excuses show that the club [PSG] and League let homophobia happen.”
The overused claim that religion has no place in sport is similar to the convenient line that politics has no place in sports, which was often cited to criminalize solidarity with Palestine only for the same apolitical people to change the rule when Ukraine became a victim of the very evil that Palestinians have been suffering in the hands of Israel across the past half a century. Israel was neither banished from Western society nor denied access to Western-led inventions, associations, and events designed for exchanges of ideas and cultures.
When, as Sevilla’s player in 2009, Freddy Kanouté revealed a shirt bearing a message of support to Palestine after scoring against Deportivo La Coruña, he was handed a €3,000 fine by the Spanish Competition Committee for his politics, his activism. It took the invasion of a country in which “European people with blue eyes and blonde hair” are “being killed,” as a guest analyst on BBC said when Russia invalided Ukraine, before those who vilified Kanoute became guilty of a transgression for which they once fined him. The entire football stadia and clubs in Europe and beyond, including live-streamed matches, have now been branded with words of support for Ukraine. And yet the murderers and destroyers of Palestinians walk freely across the West.
Gueye’s inability to access the right granted Stanciu and Nedelcearu—one of non-participation in a cause—is a mere systemic undermining of his two identities. He’s Muslim and black African. He has the absolute right to forego any virtue-signaling fad like his Romanian counterparts. Having him forced to promote a practice that contradicts his belief undermines his right too. He’s not rebelling here, he’s tolerating. He merely opted out of becoming a salesman of the LGBTQ+ culture, not de-marketing it.
What confuses me, even more, is why his decision alarms a country that’s stood by its decision to ban the wearing of headscarves and hijab, which are obligatory for women in Gueye’s religion. But we function in global hypocrisy that applauds the marginalization of these Muslim women by the very characters upset by Gueye’s faith-based decision to choose the ideas to market or pass up.
So, what happens when, for instance, a European footballer and devout atheist in a Middle Eastern country is asked to wear a branded jersey that promotes, glamorizes, or legitimizes polygamy—an essential practice there that’s illegal in the athlete’s home country and anywhere in the West but a millennia-old norm in other cultures?
It’s also disingenuous to describe Gueye’s action as homophobia. His non-participation in wearing an LGBTQ+ jersey is being called so such by those who didn’t accuse Stanciu and Nedelcearu of racism for boycotting the anti-racism campaign. The fact, also, that a Muslim takes a stance against something that isn’t in congruence with their religious belief shouldn’t call for scrutiny of their other transgressions. I’ve seen Gueye being called out for things unrelated to this trending non-issue.
Gueye is a footballer from Senegal, and before you ask him to go back to his country, take note that he’s not drawn to Paris by accident. He’s there because the leaders of that country interfered with the development trajectory of his country, and exploited their resources, human and material, to have them assimilated to valorize French culture. France is a multicultural country in fatal denial.