The rainbow-colored captain’s armband that SBV Vitesse star Guram Kashia wore last week was designed to call for unity among Dutch soccer fans. In Georgia, the small country located some 2,300 miles away from the Netherlands, that simple strip of fabric, which has become a symbol of the LGBT community, is tearing a fan base apart.
” ‘LGBT Kashia’ must be cut off from the Georgian team!” columnist Giorgi Gigauri wrote Friday in one of the country’s most prominent newspapers, Asavali-Dasavali (via RFE/RL). “Georgia’s soccer fathers should know that Georgian men will boycott the team if ‘LGBT-Kashia’ dares to play in the national team jersey.”
Gigauri wasn’t alone in his criticism of Kashia’s gesture, which was shared by every other captain of a Netherlands Eredivisie squad. Trolls came out on social media as well, some of whom hijacked a post lauding Kashia’s move uploaded to Facebook by Georgian pro-LGBT group Equality Movement.
“Poor Kashia is now a tool promoting softness,” one person said in the comments of the post that called Kashia’s participation in the campaign “a bold step.”
Another concluded, “In short, Guram Kashia, you can no longer play matches with the Georgian team.”
That Equality Movement’s post attracted negative comments likely doesn’t come as a surprise to the group. In it, the group called attention to the ongoing problem of homophobia in Georgia, which it said made Kashia’s participation in the campaign all the more poignant.
“Similar gestures are important for soccer fans to see, and it is even more important in Georgia, where homophobic attitudes are especially strong,” Equality Movement said.
According to Reuters, a 2011 survey revealed almost nine in 10 Georgians thought homosexuality could never be justified. In some cases, these opinions have translated to hate crimes, the news service said, noting the country recorded more than 30 violent attacks on LGBT people last year.
While the Georgian government has made some progress in trying to curb these attacks and behaviors — for instance, the country has passed anti-discrimination laws in an effort to appeal to the European Union — its majority political party in parliament, the Georgian Dream party, is attempting to put in place a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
While anti-LGBT views dominate the majority political party and its supporters, they’re not universal. The Equality Movement’s Facebook post about Kashia did see plenty of support. And although Kashia hasn’t spoken publicly about his participation in the Dutch unity campaign, a prominent former Georgian soccer player voiced support for the star.
“Guram, for me personally, you are and always [will] be part of Georgian soccer,” said Domenti Sichinava, who previously also led the Georgian Football Federation (via RFE/RL). “You have repeatedly stated that you are honored to play under the flag of Georgia, and I am proud to have worked with you for many years.”
Current GFF President Levan Kobiashvili has not commented on the matter.