The initiative by the French Football Federation, "Whether gay or straight: we all wear the same shirt," did not sit well with the three Toulouse players. Zakaria Aboukhlal stated that he has respect for everyone "regardless of personal preference, gender, religion, or background," but he also wants respect for his "personal beliefs."
His club did not accept his stance and benched him during last Sunday's match. Two other players, Saïd Hamulic and Moussa Diarra, who also refused to make an anti-discrimination statement on principled grounds, were sidelined for the match as well.
The rest of the players wore the shirt. At the start of the match, a banner was held up with the campaign slogan, and the coach wore a rainbow armband.
The club has little to say to the defiant players, only stating that they have taken note of their position. Local politicians, however, have made their voices heard. Sébastien Vincini, the president of the department to which Toulouse belongs, called the players' actions "unacceptable." He said, "Toulouse FC is a great club that cannot allow a few players to tarnish all its efforts in the fight against homophobia and discrimination."
Aboukhlal of Toulouse stated on Twitter that he is not "the right person" for an anti-discrimination campaign. "I hope my decision will be respected, just as we all want to be treated with respect." The responses to his statement have been mixed. Some fans stand firmly behind the player. "We are proud of you, don't give up," says one fan. Another response reads, "This is also a form of freedom!" However, there are also reactions accusing the player of hypocrisy. An opponent of his statement writes, "Don't worry, we'll see you on Grindr."