‘Must come from your heart and experience’
Politics and sports: they are two completely different worlds, which increasingly seem to be intertwined in recent years. Yesterday, soccer club Excelsior announced that Redouan el Yaakoubi is no longer a captain because of his refusal to put on the OneLove band.
El Yaakoubi previously told sports broadcaster ESPN he would rather wear the band with “respect” on it: “I think respect for everyone is important, we have to respect each other’s values.”
When El Yaakoubi also refused to sit behind a large OneLove banner at a team photo, the club decided to deprive him of the band. That action created “a lot of noise and misunderstanding internally and externally” and led to a situation “that is not desirable for either of them,” according to the club.
Excelsior took a different stance than Feyenoord, for example, when Feyenoord captain Orkun Kökcu refused to wear the OneLove band; Kökcu remained “just” captain.
‘Political statements are in’
Soccer association KNVB called the OneLove band into being as a symbol of connection, and against racism and discrimination. The colors represent “everyone’s pride in their own origin, color, gender identity and sexual orientation.” But the band thus evokes discomfort among some players.
This trend can be seen more broadly in the sports world, with athletes reluctant to speak out for certain political statements if they are rigged by an umbrella sports organization.
Max Verstappen in 2020, for example, refused to kneel for the #WeRaceAsOne initiative, which spoke out against racism and discrimination. At a press conference, he announced that everyone should be able to express themselves in their own way. Political statements within sports also no longer seem limited to individual beliefs of the athletes themselves.
Cees Wijburg, who provides media training to soccer clubs and professionals in the industry, recognizes this. “Nowadays there is a trend of sports organizations expressing themselves politically and sometimes obliging their players to do so. Excelsior wants to radiate unity and solidarity because other clubs do it too. Typical that Dutch herd behavior.”
If one does not want to participate in that, that does not make them hateful.
That soccer clubs support such actions should be possible, Wijburg says. But he “definitely” disagrees with taking away El Yaakoubi’s captain’s armband. “Support for such an action should come from your heart and perception. The OneLove band has nothing to do with soccer and that captain’s band does. I think it is wrong to take it off.”
According to Wijburg, soccer clubs should not mandate political statements to their players for that reason. “If one doesn’t want to participate in that, that doesn’t make them hateful. It’s just their own view.”
Wijburg also finds the negative reactions to El Yaakoubi’s choice dangerous: “We are very much condemning and canceling. To immediately put someone away as homophobic. Those are very heavy allegations.”
By no means are all reactions critical of the footballer. Several people online are expressing support for his choice. These include influencer and radio DJ Youssef Koukouh. He criticized Excelsior’s decision yesterday on his social media channels, where more than 300,000 people follow him.
According to Wijburg, the fact that Excelsior is taking off El Yaakoubi’s captain’s armband after all is mainly about “loss of face” for the club. In this he mentions the so-called cancel culture. “Nowadays we are forced to participate in anything and everything. And if you don’t, you get cancelled.”
“Clubs are afraid of that, too,” Koukouh adds. “Who think, ‘our figurehead, our captain, doesn’t support this, then we’re afraid people will soon think our club is homophobic.'”
‘Politics and soccer should be separated’
According to Koukouh, soccer and politics should remain separate. “When it comes to El Yaakoubi, but also about Verstappen, I say: that’s your right. You don’t have to prove to the outside world what you stand for. At the local soccer club, where I volunteer, there is no politics either. That ruins the game.”
Like Wijburg, he believes discrimination and racism should remain discussable. “But you shouldn’t go overboard with that. It is absolutely not only people who can identify with his norms and values, or only Muslims or Moroccans who support El Yaakoubi. You can already see that after my statement yesterday. A lot of people think so.”
In fact, numerous activists and human rights organizations are pleased with the introduction of the OneLove banner and Excelsior’s steadfastness in doing so. The club thus speaks out firmly against discrimination and homophobia in the soccer world, they believe.