French football club benches players after refusing to wear Pride-themed kit

Toulouse Nantes

A French football club benched a number of its own players during a recent game when they refused to take part in an anti-homophobia campaign.

Toulouse FC played against Nantes in a Ligue 1 game on Sunday (14 May), where teams in the league wore rainbow colours in support of the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, which falls on Wednesday (17 May).

In a statement, the club said some players had “expressed their disagreement regarding the association of their image with the rainbow colours representing the LGBT movement”.

“Although respecting the individual choices of its players, and after numerous exchanges, the Toulouse Football Club has chosen to exclude these players from the game.”

The names of the bench players was not identified by the club.

However, Zakaria Aboukhlal, who also plays for the Morocco national team, confirmed on social media that he was one of the players, saying: “I sincerely hope that my decision will be respected, just as we all desire to be treated with respect.”

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“First and foremost, I want to emphasise that I hold the highest regard for every individual, regardless of their personal preferences, gender, religion, or background,” he said.

“Respect is a value that I hold in great esteem. It extends to others, but it also encompasses respect for my own personal beliefs. Hence, I don’t believe I am the most suitable person to participate in this campaign.”

His statement was criticised by Scottish footballer Zander Murray, who came out as gay in 2022.

Murray questioned why Aboukhlal was unwilling to participate in the campaign when he would “happily take part in all of the other anti-discriminatory campaigns”.

“It’s not ‘propaganda’ or a ‘woke agenda’, these simple gestures of visibility can literally save someone’s life (I know this for a fact).”

Murray urged Aboukhlal to “go educate yourself about us gay people that Islam detests so much”, adding that he’d “be surprised how warm and hospitable we are”.

Murray has previously opened up about his struggles with coming to terms with his sexuality and the impact it had on his mental health.

Nantes player Mustafa Mohamed also sat the game out for his team.

In his own statement on Twitter, he said “it was not possible” for him to participate in the campaign given his “roots … culture, the importance of my convictions and beliefs”.

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