Georgian international Guram Kashia, the winner of the first UEFA #EqualGame Award, is determined to champion diversity, inclusion and equality in football.
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The winner of the inaugural UEFA #EqualGame Award, Georgian international Guram Kashia, insists that football must always remain open to everyone, and welcomes the game’s undying strength as a force for unity.
Kashia, who plays for MLS outfit San Jose Earthquakes in the United States, has won the award after making a stand for diversity and inclusion by wearing a rainbow armband – signifying support for the LGBT communities – while captaining the Dutch top-division team SBV Vitesse in a domestic league match in the Netherlands last autumn.
The 31-year-old defender joined other Dutch team captains in championing tolerance and acceptance by wearing the rainbow armband as part of an awareness campaign. This campaign was initiated by the John Blankenstein Foundation, inspired by the late former top Dutch referee, and the umbrella body for professional football club player councils within the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB), the Central Players’ Council (Centrale Spelersraad, CSR).
Kashia was subject to hostility and abuse for his actions from some circles in his native Georgia, but remained defiant, vowing to continue to support equality and equal rights.
Consequently, he is the first recipient of the UEFA #EqualGame Award, which aims to recognise a player, male or female, who has acted as a role model in promoting diversity, inclusion and accessibility in European football.
“I would like to thank [UEFA] for giving me this award,” Kashia said ahead of the UEFA Champions League group stage draw in Monaco on Thursday. “I was really surprised to receive the award, but I’m really grateful,”
“Football connects people, it brings so much happiness and excitement,” said Kashia.
“I believe football has a great power to gather people together – it doesn’t matter what colour you are, what kind of lifestyle you have, and who you are.”
Following his public backing for equality, Kashia was given widespread praise for his actions by the wider football community.
UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin praised Kashia for his “strong character and courage” in standing tall in the face of threats and criticism – which even included calls for him to give up his place in the Georgian national team.
“Football is a beautiful game, it can bring so many changes into a human being’s life,” Kashia reflected. “Football taught me everything. I became a man through the sport. I’m proud that I’m a football player.”
He emphasised that he had no regrets whatsoever about his decision to wear the rainbow armband on the pitch.
“Football has always been my love, my passion,” he said. “I will keep playing football – and on and off the pitch, I will stand for human beings’ equality.”