UEFA have chosen to give the inaugural #EqualGame award to Georgian national team player Guram Kashia. The award aims to recognise a player who has acted as a role model in promoting diversity, inclusion and accessibility in European football and it will be presented at the UEFA Champions League group stage draw and gala in Monaco on 30 August.
Kashia won the award for taking a courageous public stand for equality. Whilst playing for Dutch top-division outfit SBV Vitesse last season, the 31-year-old central defender joined other team captains at domestic matches in the Netherlands in wearing a rainbow armband, signifying support for the LGBT community.
Kashia’s gesture was greeted with an extremely negative and hostile response in certain quarters in his native Georgia. There were even calls for him to renounce playing for the national team. Nevertheless, he was defiant in the face of the abuse and threats he received, insisting he had no regrets about wearing the armband and underlining his full support for diversity and inclusion.
Following his public endorsement of equality for all, Kashia was given widespread praise for his actions by the wider football community – including the current Georgian Football Federation (GFF) president Levan Kobiashvili, via his Facebook page, and fellow players.
UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin added his own backing by saying, “I congratulate Guram for his strong character and his courage. Guram has taken an important stand to support the LGBT community and equality overall and deserves to win this award.”
“Even though his actions sparked threats and abuse from many groups, he preached tolerance and acceptance, and helped change perceptions of this minority group in his native country of Georgia,” added Mr Čeferin.
Kashia, who is now playing in the MLS with the San Jose Earthquakes, said “I am honoured that UEFA has picked me as the recipient of the #EqualGame Award. I believe in equality for everyone, no matter what you believe in, who you love or who you are.”
“I thank the UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin for this award, and I will always keep defending equality and equal rights for everyone, wherever I will play.”
UEFA’s award reflects the key core ethos of its #EqualGame campaign – that everyone has the right to enjoy football, irrespective of ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, social background or religious beliefs.
“The introduction of the #EqualGame award,” said Aleksander Čeferin, “aims to celebrate and recognise the players who promote diversity, inclusion and accessibility – the values of our campaign.”
“Football is a force for social change,” he added, “and people who are role models in their communities and who utilise sport for good should be rewarded.”
The initiative for captains to wear rainbow armbands in the Netherlands belonged to the John Blankenstein Foundation, an organisation inspired by the late former top Dutch referee which aims to improve LGBT acceptance in organised sport, as well as the umbrella body for professional football club player councils within the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB), the Central Players’ Council (Centrale Spelersraad, CSR).