I grew up around sports. My family spent nearly every weekend cheering on our teams at various sporting events. At the age of five, I joined my first swim team. Today, I am a collegiate athlete. Sports have allowed me to meet so many wonderful people, many of whom had differing political, religious, and personal convictions from my own. The politically neutral platform that sports provide has allowed fans and athletes to have open conversations about our different views, while still being unified in our love for the sport. This free and open space is now being jeopardized.

It seems that no entity is free from the hyper-politicized climate of today’s society, including sports. Profit-driven political agendas are being pushed by teams. Players and fans are forced to conform to and adopt the political messages their team is promoting. This is forcing many to compromise their religious beliefs as they engage with their team. The sports arena is no longer a unifying space.

In a recent FRC Speaker Series event, Dr. Jennifer Bryson spoke about the politicization of sports, and how it is forcing many to jeopardize their religious beliefs. Dr. Bryson, an avid sports fan, is the founder of  Let All Play, which advocates to protect inclusivity and fairness in sports and games by keeping political and religious exclusivity out. In her presentation, she shared examples of the politicization and religious exclusivity that is happening in the world of sports, particularly in soccer.

In 2018, the German Bundesliga team, VfL Wolfsburg, issued a press release detailing their decision to have team captains wear a LGBT rainbow armband. The publication details the team’s stance, proclaiming, “One Team, One Belief.” VfL Wolfsburg made it clear that they were using the armbands to make a political statement: “[We’re] sending a clear message that we stand for diversity.” However, this so-called “diversity” only stands for leftist ideals, excluding religious or political diversity. Josip Brekalo, when offered the position of captain, was faced with a difficult choice. He could accept the honor of captain and wear the armband, but would be forced to compromise his beliefs by doing so. Brekalo refused to support his team’s political agenda and declined the position.

This is not the only instance within the soccer world where players have been forced to display the LGBT rainbow.

Jaelene Hinkle, an American soccer player, was called up to the U.S. Women’s National Team in June 2017. She declined the offer. In an interview with CBN, Hinkle revealed that accepting the promotion would have forced her to violate her religious beliefs. The U.S. Women’s National Team’s uniforms sported LGBT rainbow numbers. Hinkle, a Christian, refused to promote the team’s political agenda, and gave up her dream to do so, saying, “I’m essentially giving up the one dream little girls dream about their entire life… It was very disappointing. And I think that’s where the peace trumped the disappointment. Because I knew in my spirit I was doing the right thing. I knew that I was being obedient.” The sport is becoming disturbingly exclusive—forcing out those who disagree with the political agendas rife on the field. 

Not only were these instances violations of religious liberty, but they were in direct violation of FIFA rules. 

FIFA’s Law 04 Section 5 states that equipment, including the uniform, “must not have any political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images.” The LGBT rainbow is one of the best-known political symbols worldwide. LGBT rainbow uniform numbers and armbands are not acceptable under current FIFA rules. Many Muslims and Christians who have spoken out about these instances have not been heard. The celebration of this falsely labeled “diversity” is drowning out those who are standing up for religious liberty in sports, such as many Muslims and Christians.

As Dr. Bryson pointed out, people in all walks of life can take a stand for religious liberty in sports.

  • Sports ministries like FIFA need to enforce the rules they have set.
  • Parents must familiarize themselves with the rules of the team their children play on. They must prepare themselves and their children to take a stand for religious freedom when necessary.
  • Athletes must stand up for religious freedom by advocating for their own religious accommodation rights and advocate against the politicization of sports.
  • Non-profits should educate and have materials for parents, athletes, and teams on how to respond to instances similar to those detailed above.
  • Congress must hold national teams accountable to the rules they have set. They must take action to keep politics out of the sports arena.

You can help keep FIFA free of political symbols. Sign the petition today.

Read more at LetAllPlay.org.

Abigail Ross is an intern at Family Research Council.