Despite perceived progress towards equality, the sad truth is that our world is still far away from being an open and accepting community. From local incidents of hate all the way up to national policies that promote discrimination and violence against minorities of all kinds, it’s clear that there is still work to be done. That’s why it’s dismaying for so many football fans to see one of the sport’s legends seemingly promoting an anti-gay authority figure, but that’s exactly what happened with Brazilian futbolero Ronaldinho this past weekend.
On Sunday, the former Barcelona star posted a photo on his personal Facebook alongside Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, sparking debate and conversation about Kadyrov’s political stance and anti-gay actions. The far-right Head of the Chechen Republic has been accused of rounding up gay people and torturing them in his country, leading to Canada’s foreign ministry’s call to Russia to investigate the abduction and torture of 100 LGBTQ people in Chechnya.
Muito bem recebido por todos, aqui em Grozny. Especial demais, vir de tão longe e receber tanto carinho!!! Obrigado por tudo FC Akhmat Grozny @kadyrov_95 e @cherhigov_95.
Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, released a statement about the situation in April, saying that “[r]ecent and ongoing reports of the persecution of gay and bisexual men in Chechnya are reprehensible. We call on the Russian authorities to thoroughly investigate these reports and to immediately ensure the safety of all persons in Chechnya who may be at risk due to their sexual orientation.”
In response, Kadyrov–who is backed by the Kremlin–made an appearance on HBO’s Real Sports this past weekend, where he denied that there could be any gay people in Chechnya and said, “if there are any, take them to Canada”.
He didn’t stop there, however: “Take them far from us so we don’t have them at home. To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them.” When asked about the allegations of abuse to gay people, Kadyrov didn’t hold back. “They are devils. They are for sale. They are not people. God damn them for what they are accusing us of. They will have to answer to the Almighty for this.”
It is unclear if Ronaldinho was aware of Kadyrov’s political actions and ideologies prior to the photo, which he captioned with a message of positivity: “Very well received by everyone here in Grozny. Too special, come from so far and receive so much affection!!! Thank you for everything.”
If he didn’t know prior to going public with the photo, he surely does now, as fans immediately rushed to denounce the photo, commenting on Ronaldinho’s perceived loss of integrity, while urging him to condemn Kadyrov’s actions. The comments range from demands that the photo be taken down, to admonitions of Ronaldinho’s character and reputation. The simple-yet-harsh top comment on the post summarizes the fan response best: “You stand next to a mass murder…with a big smile. 👎🏽👎🏽👎🏽”