The problem of Idrissa Gueye 

Who is Idrissa Gueye? He’s young black, Muslim man from Senegal. And he has a special talent. He is a good footballer. He gets paid well for playing well. Because of the global popularity of football, his talents, he is pitched into the spotlight, under the public eye.

You won’t have heard too much about him until now. He plays under the radar. Talented, efficient and generally fairly quiet. He has not made any public announcements. He doesn’t use his accident of talent and the fame that goes with it promote popular or populist causes.

But he has been pitched into the spotlight by making a private decision – for reasons we know little about and no one seems to really have asked.

Gueye has been ordered by the French football federation’s ethics board to answer accusations he missed a game to avoid wearing a rainbow jersey in support of the LGBTQI+ movement. Headlines inform the reader that he is being asked to explain himself against accusations of homophobia.

Reported on France24, the BBC amongst others, the young African Muslim has been told he must “issue a public apology” or say the rumours he refused to take part in French fight against homophobia are “unfounded”, according to a letter seen Wednesday by AFP addressed to the player.

“This absence (against Montpellier)… is very widely interpreted as a refusal to participate,” wrote the French Football Federation’s ethics board.

“One of two things, either the hypotheses are unfounded and we invite you to immediately express yourself in order to silence these rumours … Or the rumours are true. In this case we ask you to be aware of the impact of your actions and the very serious error committed … In refusing to take part in this collective initiative you are validating discriminatory behaviour… and not only against the LGBTQI+ community.”

There is much that is disturbing about this. Firstly, Gueye has neither said or done anything publicly. He is subject to rumours or someone telling tales. Secondly, the French Football Federation offers only two possibilities – the rumours are true that Gueye refused to wear the pride flag on his jersey and is validating discriminatory behaviour or he didn’t refuse.

There is no in-between. His decision – if true – to not wear the pride flag is only allowed to have one interpretation – homophobia. This is dangerous. It is also nonsense. This writer cannot read inside Gueye’s head.

He may have refused to wear the flag because he is an ardent homophobe. He may hate gay people. But there is nothing to suggest that this is the case. And in any fair minded world, where reasonable people talk to reasonable people, this suggestion would not even be on the table.

However, we are not living in reasonable times.

It is worth pointing out that because Gueye is a black Africa Muslim there is a whiff of racism in this accusation. It is assumed that, because Senegal outlaws homosexuality, because he is African, because he is Muslim, it is not possible that he may hold a more nuanced perspective on the rainbow flag. Was he a white, atheist, white collar, Silicon Valley technician living in San Francisco, would the default assumption be that he is homophobic were he to choose not to wear this symbol?

If he wasn’t a poor-African-gotten-rich-through-football, there may be a slightly higher bar of judgement allowed. There may even be some interest in possibly nuanced views.  He would still probably be vilified.

In contrast with the ‘outing’ of Gueye as – dare we say it – a Muslim, was the story of a young footballer who has come as gay – the first in the English upper tier football since Justin Fashanu in the late 70s/early 80s. Blackpool footballer Jake Daniels – only 17 – has been described as ‘incredibly brave’ and ‘powerful’.

He may be brave inside the world of professional football but is he braver than Idrissa Gueye? So far, his outing has been described in superlatives and has been celebrated. Gueye has been vilified on the most part, subject to Soviet style inquisition where he is being forced to make the impossible choice.

In the public eye, Daniels choice seems to require less bravery than Gueye. Internally, inside the dressing rooms, who knows how it might be for Daniels. On the terraces, yes, he may be subject to some random abuse. But contrary to perspectives led by the BBC and the Guardian, football fans are not the knuckle dragging Neanderthals that they are portrayed to be, in need of patronising symbolism on the pitch to tell them they are in need of self-improvement.

It is this moralising by their ‘betters’ that is the problem. As with Black Lives Matters, so it is with the pride rainbow symbol. You have to embrace it, to submit to it, to pronounce it as an infallible unquestioning good otherwise you are a racist or a homophobe, whichever. You are not allowed to question it. You are not allowed to say that either symbol or movement has become much more than something celebrating equality of race or sexuality. They are symbols now used to enforce conformity. To outlaw questioning. To silence religious views.

The flag may be an identity symbol for gay pride, but for Idrissa Gueye it is not his identifier. He should not be forced to wear it in order to avoid accusations of homophobia. It becomes a Hobson’s choice. But there is a 3rd option.

Gueye could be a Muslim and he may adhere in some manner to the tenets of the faith. He may have no issue with anyone being gay; he may have no issue with the gay pride flag, but he may also be unwilling to promote the lifestyle that is demonstrated in the Pride parades annually. It was only 1996 that President Clinton signed into being the Defence of Marriage Act, a legislative decision endorsed both by Democrats and Republicans alike with over 30 states having a similar law. In 2008 Barack Obama admitted to not supporting same-sex marriage. Yet, these are totemic symbols of the left and Idrissa Gueye is expected to undergo some form of show trial and public self-correction for, possibly maybe not wanting to wear the rainbow pride flag on his back.

As a Muslim, should he expect the same reciprocity for his identity? Should everyone else be expected to wear an Islamic flag – say a golden crescent on a green background? Should Catholic expect the Mary’s month (the month of May) to be treated with the same public reverence and investment as Pride Month (also May) or more lately, Black History Month?

If an African Muslim called to task for his/her unwillingness to endorse the Cross by the French Football Federation (“In this case we ask you to be aware of the impact of your actions and the very serious error committed … In refusing to take part in this collective initiative you are validating discriminatory behaviour”) there would be both ridicule but also the spectre of the inquisition would be raised.

However, as with all new religious movements, once achieving ascendency, they are required to quash all opposition. A movement framed around freedom, tolerance and diversity becomes the exact opposite of that: controlling, coercive, conforming and intolerant.



David Reynolds

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