Last week, Creteil Bebel, an amateur French team, refused to play a league match against Paris Foot Gay - citing a range of reasons, all homophobic. They have since agreed to take the field against PFG, after they were threatened with being banned from the league and made national headlines in France as the homophobic Muslim team (the manager cited the fact that players on his team were "practicing Muslims" to explain the refusal).
I have a couple of thoughts about this interesting story.
1. Paris Foot Gay fields Muslim players, so the impulse to characterize this as a problem between a gay team and a Muslim team is off base, even given the manager's moronic statement. Better to characterize it as a conflict between a gay team, and a homophobic team. Islamophobia is a big part of French culture - supported in part by the representation of Muslims (and Arabs more generally) as backwards women-hating, homophobic fundamentalists. As a gay team with an anti-racist policy (and a multicultural roster), PFG knows this and has been smarter about this issue in its statements than has been the French press (at least as represented by the television broadcasts I could access on youtube).
2. Creteil Bebel has come around, and explained that their objection was less to the fact that PFG is gay, than to the fact that "Gay" is in their name - that they advertise themselves as a political team. Some bloggers are confused by this - in part because it's a load of bull, given the manager's earlier statements. But this is in fact a pretty common reaction to the words "gay" and "lesbian". Just saying them can be a political act. And in the space of football, it is - PFG identifies itself as a gay team in order to both advertise itself as an anti-homophobic team (which gay players may prefer) and also to raise awareness and combat homophobia within the leagues.
3. Somehow the way this story was reported bugged me: Smug media bulletins about this, as if suddenly sports editors care about homophobia - when those very same media outlets ignore an entire sport (women's soccer) because of its own sexism and homophobia. I could be wrong, but I suspect the only reason we are hearing about this is because PFG is an activist team and would have responded to this with a press release. Which is good - it shows you just how much one well-funded, savvy team can accomplish.
Anyway, hooray to PFG for opening up dialogue with a phobic team, and forwarding conversation about the issue within the French leagues. And I'm glad Creteil Bebel changed their minds. Let's hope they have a good game. And sack their manager.
Footnote: Paris Foot Gay is partly sponsored by Agnès B.