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Saturday, June 12, 2021

Somewhere under the Bengaluru FC rainbow

At Bengaluru FC, when the decision was made to extend support to the LGBTQ community in Pride Month, there was an initiation process that players had to undergo.

Written by Shahid Judge | Mumbai |
Updated: June 7, 2021 8:04:50 am
Bengaluru FC players celebrate a goal during an AFC Cup match. (File)

On the first day of this month, Bengaluru FC uploaded a social media post that had the sketch of a floodlight throwing rainbow colours over their home ground, Sree Kanteerava Stadium. Tagged with #LoveKnowsNoGender, its caption said: “This June, remember that your love is yours to colour”.

The tweet didn’t go viral and in a week’s time since it appeared, it has gathered just around 600 likes but it did help Bengaluru FC stand out as a rare sporting team in India to support and spread awareness about a cause which has largely been considered a taboo.

The Chief Executive Officer of the team that has won two I-League and one Indian Super League titles, Mandar Tamhane gives his reason for this LGBTQ Pride Month initiative.

“As a club, we wanted to be more and more inclusive. When the Supreme Court gave the order (in September 2018, to decriminalise Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code, thus allowing same-sex relationships), we thought it was time to talk about it. We have been supporting this cause for the past three years.”

India and Bengaluru FC goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has in the past been part of a team – though not in India – that has wholeheartedly embraced the LGBTQ community. The 29-year-old had first experienced it when he played for top-tier Norwegian club Stabæk.

“Every year at Stabæk, we used to meet and greet with people from the LGBTQ community in our area,” he says.

“We used to go onto the pitch on a match day holding hands with people from the community, putting a message out there saying that we support and welcome them, and we want to be a part of this community to make sure everyone is happy and coexisting.”

At the Indian club though, when the decision was made to take such a stand that had never been taken before by a sporting outfit, there was an initiation process that players had to undergo.

“Most of us (players) are not educated about the topic. The club helps educate us, and makes sure that what we are going to be a part of, we learn about it,” Sandhu explains.

“That’s why when you’re a part of something, you can’t be there just half-heartedly and turn up for press conferences or interviews if you don’t know about the issue.”

The outreach wasn’t just about posting sketches on social media. Ahead of a match against ATK, the squad – including the support staff from head coach to kit manager – walked into the stadium from the team bus wearing suits that had a rainbow flag sticker on it. Later, at a home match, the match-day programme had an entry written by a gay supporter of the club talking about his experience of coming out.

These were subtle, yet conspicuous and consistent displays of support.

It’s a start, but Sandhu asserts that there’s still a long way to go for the topic to be openly discussed.

“Of course, there is a lot of stigma attached to this. One of the ways to tackle this is to create a lot of awareness, creating non-judgmental zones,” he says.

“The ruling was passed almost three years ago. We are still a long way from understanding a lot of things about this. It’s very important to respect that each individual is different. As long as we can coexist, with happiness and peace, it’ll be great. Everyone is different, what they feel and see is different, and we need to respect it as a community.”

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