I didn’t want to write this article. I rarely do when it’s about something that a Tottenham Hotspur player has done that feels wrong, or icky. But I promised readers that I’d shine a light on aspects of the World Cup that otherwise don’t get the coverage it deserves, even when it’s distasteful, so we need to talk about it.
On Monday, Hugo Lloris spoke as part of a press conference as captain of France ahead of the World Cup in Qatar. In that press conference, he was asked a question about whether he would wear a rainbow armband as captain, a gesture that would serve as a (very) small token in support for LBGTQ+ individuals during the World Cup. Homosexuality and queer culture is criminalized in Qatar, just one of the many reasons why the World Cup should never have been awarded to the Middle Eastern country to begin with. FIFA doesn’t allow unique armband designs in their tournament, so wearing one would also be a (again, very small) middle finger to the governing body.
Hugo’s response... wasn’t great.
“Before we start anything, we need the agreement of Fifa, the agreement of the [French] federation. Of course, I have my personal opinion on the topic. And it’s quite close to the [French federation] president’s.
“When we are in France, when we welcome foreigners, we often want them to follow our rules, to respect our culture, and I will do the same when I go to Qatar, quite simply. I can agree or disagree with their ideas, but I have to show respect.”
Ugh. I hate this. I’d like to try and hand-wave this away by suggesting that Hugo’s response is that of the France football federation (FFF), and that as France captain Hugo is unfortunately trying to hold the federation’s line. But I can’t do that, since Hugo basically admitted that he agrees with France federation president Noël Le Graët, who said he’d prefer no rainbow armbands in order to avoid “lecturing others.”
Let’s be frank: the FFF is also free to tell its players that they prefer that they not make statements on LGBTQ+ issues during the World Cup. That’d be weird, considering France is one of 13 European national members of the One Love Campaign that seeks to promote inclusivity and equality at this tournament, but they are free to do it. Hugo is also free to hold his personal opinion on these matters and to state them publicly. And I am free on this blog to say that his personal opinion, in this context, is bullshit.
Lloris and France are about to participate in a tournament that is already rife with sociopolitical narratives, awarded to a country that literally imprisons gay people by a world sporting body that is nakedly corrupt and admitted to accepting bribes in the World Cup bidding process. The United States is already using rainbow versions of its logo wherever it can in support of LGBTQ+ rights. Doing nothing feels like swimming against the tide.
If we widen the scope of the argument, Hugo isn’t necessarily wrong that it’s generally a good idea when visiting a foreign country to respect the laws and cultures of that country or region. But I feel like that shouldn’t apply when it comes to human rights and the persecution of people for being who they are, especially when millions of fans, some of them LGBTQ+, are coming to Qatar to watch a football tournament. Despite statements to the contrary by tournament officials, their safety is not guaranteed, nor is the safety of gay Qataris already in the country.
Lloris almost certainly shares a football pitch with multiple Tottenham and France players that are LGBTQ+, if not openly. He’s also, apparently willingly, participated in multiple Rainbow Laces campaigns in the Premier League, so I don’t really know what the difference is here. If Hugo does disagree with the idea of wearing a rainbow armband as captain, he could’ve easily said something anodyne about “following the federation’s wishes on the matter” or something like that. That would’ve been kinda bad, but at least understandable. Instead Hugo made a personal statement that kind of implies how he feels about LGBTQ+ people in football, it’s kind of gross, and he should know better.
A little later on in the press conference, Hugo suggested that France would be joining a “collective statement” in support of human rights in Qatar. “We can’t remain insensitive to these issues. It will be done in a few days, or hours, we will see.”
Whatever. Wearing a rainbow armband hurts nobody. Is it a bit of a thumb in the eye of the Qatari government? Absolutely. Would it have ruffled some FIFA feathers? Unquestionably. Is it basically lip service to the idea of promoting real reform to Qatari laws? Clearly. But it’s also the right thing to do. Regardless of his personal feelings on the matter, and if I’m being charitable I can suggest that it’s probably a lot more complex than what his statement suggests, Hugo could’ve just stayed quiet on the matter, or passed the buck. Instead, he showed his ass, and is getting rightfully dragged for it.