A group fighting homophobia in soccer has called on the French league and Paris Saint-Germain to ask player Idrissa Gueye for an explanation after he missed a game last week amid reports that he refused to play because he did not want to wear a rainbow-colored number on the back of his jersey.
The Senegal midfielder traveled with his teammates to Montpellier last weekend for Saturday's French league game in the southern city but did not play, with PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino citing “personal reasons" to justify his absence on the field.
For the second consecutive season, professional clubs in the country had been invited to label their players’ shirts with colored numbers using the rainbow flag, the symbol of the LGBTQ movement.
According to a person with direct knowledge of the incident, Gueye did not play because he did not want to wear a rainbow-colored number on the back of his shirt. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the player has not yet commented publicly on the incident.
French radio RMC first reported on the reasons why Gueye skipped the match.
The Rouge Direct group said in a message posted on Twitter that PSG and the league should not exclude the possibility of sanctioning Gueye.
“Homophobia is not an opinion but a crime," the group said.
The case has become a political issue in both Senegal and France.
Senegal's President Macky Sall tweeted his support to Gueye, writing in French: “I support Idrissa Gana Gueye. His religious convictions must be respected.”
The country's former prime minister Abdoul Mbaye also threw his support behind Gueye, saying the PSG player “is not homophobic. He does not want his image to be used to promote homosexuality. Leave him alone.”
Homosexual relationships are considered a crime in Senegal and can be punished with one to five years in prison.
Valerie Pecresse, the conservative candidate in the French presidential election last month, joined the criticism of Gueye.
“The players of a soccer club, and those of PSG in particular, are identification figures for our young people," she wrote on Twitter. “They have a duty to set an example. A refusal by Idrissa Gana Gueye to join the fight against homophobia could not remain without sanction!"
L'Equipe newspaper reported that Gueye had already missed the corresponding match last season when all teams wore shirts with the rainbow, citing a bout of gastroenteritis.
Homophobic chants, often heard at French league matches, have been tolerated for a long time by many club officials, and soccer authorities have struggled to find the appropriate ways of tackling the issue. The French league, however, launched an action plan three years ago allowing spectators to report sexist, homophobic or racist incidents they witness.
AP reporter Babacar Dione in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.
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