Moroccan World Cup football star Aboukhlal boycotts Ligue over pro-LGBTQ campaign
After capturing hearts in Qatar World Cup, Moroccan footballer Zakaria Aboukhlal broke them on Sunday after announcing his boycott of Ligue's yearly pro-LGBTQ+ campaign.
"I don't believe I am the most suitable person to participate in this campaign," wrote the twenty-two-year-old Toulouse FC player in a press release on Sunday.
As the French League 1 championship kicked off over the weekend, all teams in Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 will have jerseys bearing the rainbow colours, a symbolic support of the LGBTQ+ community.
The Moroccan winger, who joined the French club Toulouse FC last June, reportedly asked the team coach to be dismissed from the weekend game against Nantes. Boukhlal's teammates Moussa Diarra, Fares Chaibi, Logan Costa and Said Hamulic also requested to not be associated with the campaign.
Even though, the campaign is also criticised by members of the LGBTQ+ community for its theatrics while putting little actual effort into eliminating homophobia in the stereotypically toxic football competitions, Aboukhlal and his teammates' move set off heated debates over homophobia and hypocrisy in football.
"I have the highest regard for every individual, regardless of personal preference (...). Respect is a value that I hold dear. It extends to others but also includes respecting my own personal beliefs," stressed the Moroccan footballer in an Instagram post, which has over 190,000 likes.
Several social media users linked the player's decision to his conservative religious background. The twenty-two-year-old player has been previously vocal about his attachment to conservative Islamic practices.
He was seen during the last World Cup in an Instagram live calling for people to come to the "right side" and join Islam. Also another live during the same period showed the player jokingly refusing to sing with his teammates saying, "Astaghrirou Allah" (By God's forgiveness).
Boukhal's decision upset mostly the Moroccan LGBTQ+ community who cheered, along with all Moroccans, on the player's increasing popularity in the World Cup and heralded him as a hero of the nation at the time.
"His statement is the embodiment of homophobia. Let's stop using the term personal beliefs to justify not supporting human rights. LGBTQ+ rights are human rights," Oussama, a queer Moroccan, said to The New Arab.
"Morocco's impressive journey in the Qatar World Cup was one of the rarest moments that unified Moroccan society where everyone felt included, even the LGBTQ+ community whose mere existence is considered illegal in the conservative country," Oussama explained.
"Mr Aboukhlal. Did you understand that this is a day for the fight against homophobia (its attacks, its discrimination) and not for homosexuality? (...) A majority of Muslims played," tweeted a France-based fan.
Meanwhile, other fans chose to support the player's decision as a form of standing with his "personal freedom".
Published on Sunday, Aboukhal's post gained support from his fans and several of his Moroccan teammates such as Chelsa's player Hakim Ziyach, who commented with a heart and a salute emoji under Aboukhal's post.
Several fans went further to evoke the example of the French team's refusal to wear the pro-LGBTQ+ hand-bands during the Qatar World Cup, underlining French media's double standards in reporting on both events.
Last year's World Cup, held in a country with several human rights issues, fueled debates across borderlines on major issues in politics, activism and the sport of football.
Nevertheless, football continues to be a hostile field for LGBTQ+ fans, managers and players, according to a survey by Gay Times.