“Idrissa Gueye is the result of a system”, says Ouissem Belgacem

A year ago, Ouissem Belgacem published his first book, goodbye my shame (Fayard), whose paperback version will be released June 1 by Harper Collins. The 34-year-old Franco-Tunisian, a former resident of the TFC training center, broke the taboo of homophobia in football there. A topic that has necessarily sparked controversy over the weekend. According to the Parisian and RMC Sport did not play Idrissa Gueye at PSG in Montpellier on Saturday night because he did not want to participate in the day to fight this discrimination.

At the end of the day, this Monday, neither the player, nor the club, nor the LFP, who launched the initiative launched in 2019, had officially responded. Requested this Monday by 20 minutesOuissem Belgacem expresses his disappointment at this kind of behavior, but also notes that the approach of the body that governs French professional football is akin to “pinkwashing”. He defends a substantive policy, such as his conferences with clubs and companies, and counts on a documentary about his work to be filmed to contribute to a change in mentality.

What is your response to this controversy?

If it turned out that Idrissa Gueye didn’t want to play for religious reasons, I would find that extremely disappointing. This is already proving the limits of this LFP operation, with these rainbow colored flocked sweaters. I know there are plenty of players who only wear them because they have to wear them, but don’t know the cause. We don’t see any Instagram posts from players expressing pride in participating in this day. I have the impression that it is more of a publicity stunt than information and awareness work with players, audience, coaches…

To return to the behavior of Idrissa Gueye, religious reasons are mentioned. I am also a Muslim and it is always interesting and sad to see that we can carry a religion in such a different way. For me, Islam is above all a religion of tolerance, peace, charity, where we should not judge each other. Ultimately, what brings us all together is exposing injustice. If you are gay in France these days, you will clearly suffer from homophobia in all areas of your life.

Football is in theory about living together. I am sorry that Idrissa Gueye as a person does not feel touched by this case and regrettable that PSG has employees who are not willing to denounce injustice, to fight against it. Ultimately it is a matter of humanism. We are not asking a player to open Gay Pride, just to provide fairly discreet support to reduce homophobia in France.

Would you be in favor of sanctions against the player if the facts are confirmed, as Rouge Direct, an association that fights against homophobia in sports, asks?

I don’t think that’s the solution. It’s not because he didn’t participate in this day that he’s homophobic. We don’t know his opinion. I would like to ask him the question like I do in clubs: “Why is this question not your concern? “Do you know that living together is one of the values ​​we want to defend in French sport? †

There is a notion of education in respect for difference. By wanting to impose a certain outfit on the 37th day, at the end of the season, we have the impression that this operation is more like a checkbox than anything else.

You mean the football authorities want to clear their conscience?

Yes, to be able to say: “Look, we’re doing something”. But will this action cause an awakening of conscience and affect people who are homophobic or indifferent to the homosexual cause? I doubt it, that’s obvious.

Back in 2019 there was this story about rainbow bracelets that some captains of Ligue 1 teams didn’t want to wear…

It’s a recurring debate. We must not attack Idrissa Gueye as an individual. For me it is the result of a system. I would like to send him to spend time in an association that works with young LGBT people. To show that in France we are not so far apart in the end, that we are all the same.

On the 37th day of L1 2018-2019, Edinson Cavani wore a rainbow colored bracelet.  Not all captains had imitated him.
On the 37th day of L1 2018-2019, Edinson Cavani wore a rainbow colored bracelet. Not all captains had imitated him. – François Mori / AP / Sipa

You said recently that homophobia is the blind spot of discrimination. Does this sort of thing confirm it?

Absolute. I haven’t read many comments from French footballers. People prefer not to talk about it. They also know that our society is determined by current events. Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow there will be another topic again, the Champions League final approaching… Then they go on holiday and another season starts. We squat down, no one speaks, then we move on.

What do you think of the many comments on social networks defending Gueye?

This is very disappointing, but not surprising. As long as we do not carry out concrete actions, that we do not carry out extensive training programs with professional players, coaches, young people from training centers, we can do the same day every year with the flocked jerseys rainbow, it will not succeed go further than that.

Are you surprised by their reactions when you meet young footballers at your club conferences?

I still hear very, very homophobic speeches. Sometimes there are a few lights and that is very nice. But I traveled all over France and heard the same speeches: “two men together, it’s disgusting”, “gays, I don’t like them”, while the boy doesn’t know homosexuals… It’s scary. I’m sure many don’t know what the LGBT flag stands for. Last year I saw a video of a football player who thought it was about the fight against racism, because there were all colors…

For Ouissem Belgacem, the LFP's initiative against homophobia is related to
For Ouissem Belgacem, the LFP’s initiative against homophobia is akin to “a publicity stunt”. – Adil Benayache / Sipa

The issue of homophobia is not specific to football…

No, but with its number 1 strike force in France, football can be considered a fantastic educational resource. The players are followed by millions and millions of young people. If they show nice values, in line with what sport and France should represent, that could have a fantastic influence. If Mbappé dyes his hair pink today, tomorrow I will walk in Paris and I will see many young people with pink hair.

Are you seeing progress a year after the release of your book?

I hope I was able to develop some brains. Filming the documentary since September 2021 will be absolutely essential. I won’t be able to go to all the clubs in France. I hope that the documentary will be made available to all young people in France, to all parents. It will be a very, very strong educational tool.

Despite all the obstacles that have stood in your way, are you still a football fan?

Yes, a million percent! I’m also looking for places for the Champions League final, it’s really not easy (laughs). Football is my first love, I will never love it. The sensations I experience with a football, on a field, are incomparable. But I completely distance my sport from the people who make it up.