England captain Leah Williamson hopes England will be able to wear the OneLove armband, at the World Cup in July, as an act of “solidarity” with LGBTQ+ players.
Williamson, 25, will be wearing the armband, representing the national team, during the Arnold Clark Cup tournament which kicks off on 16 February.
“We’re never shy in saying what we stand for,” said Williamson. “We’re a squad that embraces equality and we have a number of people that feel very strongly about it. It’s not even a question for us really.
“We have seen another men’s player step out and be as brave as they can be and potentially change their whole life – as they don’t know what’s coming – so to also stand in solidarity with them is important to us.”
Czech Republic’s Jakub Jankto has made history as the first current international in men’s football to publicly come out as gay.
The star made his senior debut for the Czech Republic in 2017 and has scored four goals across 45 appearances.
In a now-viral clip shared by the 27-year-old on 13 February, he opened up about his sexuality publicly for the first time.
“Like everybody else, I have my strengths, I have my weaknesses, I have a family, I have my friends,” he said.
“I have a job that I have been doing as best as I can for years with seriousness, with professionalism and passion.”
Continuing with her message to the media, Williamson showcased support for the LGBTQ+ community and the team’s mission to make the sport accessible for all: “It’s something we’ve always done and will continue to do. We’re not just impacting football but trying to have a positive influence on society and that’s one of the ways we can do that.
“It’s a journey the world is on that isn’t quite where we want it to be yet. I think Jakub [Jankto] was a main factor, but as always, I think it stands against discrimination of any form.”
Earlier this year, England, Wales and five other European nations were forced to remove the OneLove armband, which was intended to be used as a means of protest, during the World Cup in Qatar.
The decision arose following warned by FIFA teams that they would face sporting sanctions and that their captains could also face getting booked or sent off the pitch.
Fellow Arsenal teammate Vivianne Miedema applauded Jankto and his decision to come out over social media.
This. It takes a lot of courage to come out. Support within the game is so important, to normalise it going forward. Proud of @jakubjanktojr for being brave and being yourself. 👏🏽🌈 https://t.co/7skdxbpEJT
— Vivianne Miedema (@VivianneMiedema) February 14, 2023
Williamson shared hopes that the “best decision is made in the best interests of the game” would be made after the announcement that Saudi Arabia’s state tourism authority had been awarded sponsorship of the Women’s World Cup by FIFA.
The tournament hosts, Australia and New Zealand, have openly spoken out against the sponsorship decision due to the country’s human rights record, especially relating to women and LGBTQ+ people.
“As players, especially in the women’s game, I’ve seen what the American players have said, we’re not shy to stand up for what we believe in,” said Williamson. “We make clear statements constantly about the society we want to live in and having a positive impact on the world.
“We’ll always make our opinions heard and that is the nature of the game but ultimately those things are hopefully resolved in a positive way by Fifa and Australia and New Zealand. There’s a time and a place for a player to speak and speak out but it’s not in our hands and hopefully the best decision is made in the best interests of the game.”
Lioness manager Sarina Wiegman voiced support for her team and agreed it was progress that “things are being addressed” within the women’s game.
“People know what we stand for and that’s what they talk about all the time. It’s part of being a professional player too, because they are influencers,” she shared. “But we know when it’s time to re-focus on football and to address things like this.”