If you’re a soccer fan, you might have noticed players wearing rainbow shoelaces with their soccer boots during recent Premier League games. This isn’t just another fashion trend, but rather a statement for LGBTQ equality in sport.
Organised by Stonewall, a charity that campaigns for LGBTQ rights, the Rainbow Laces campaign kicked off during the last weekend of November, and ran until 7 December. The aim of having players across a variety of sports codes wear multi-coloured laces is to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans equality in sport.
A number of sports teams and leagues committed to taking part in the Rainbow Laces campaign, among others, the English Premier League.
The Springboks have been heavily criticised for not wearing rainbow laces on 24 November, during their match against Wales in Cardiff – coincidentally also the city where openly gay former Wales rugby captain, Gareth Thomas, was the victim of a homophobic attack only a week before.
Sports fans have also been encouraged to wear rainbow laces as a show of solidarity and support. Speaking to The Guardian about the campaign, Ryan Atkin, the first openly gay professional referee, underlined the role that fans can play to spread the message of acceptance and equality.
“You don’t have to be LGBT to be a supporter of the campaign. In fact, allies within the sport are more crucial than ever.
“I hope this campaign sees more sport stars, staff and fans publicly support LGBT people and that they make clear that homophobia and abusive comments are not acceptable. However, wearing rainbow laces for a game is not enough.”
The Rainbow Laces campaign was launched in 2013 in response to the frequency of LGBTQ slurs heard at sports matches and the stigmatisation of the LGBTQ community in the spots world.
Stonewall’s research has shown that 72% of soccer fans have heard anti-LGBT remarks at games over the last five years, and that one in five 18 to 24-year-olds say they would be embarrassed if their favourite player came out.