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Leah Williamson, captain of the England women’s national football team, has announced that she will wear a OneLove armband during this month’s Arnold Clark Cup in support of Jakub Jankto, who recently came out as gay, becoming the highest-profile male footballer to do so.
Jankto, who is a midfielder for the Czech Republic national team and is on loan at Sparta Prague from Spanish club Getafe, revealed his sexuality in a candid interview earlier this week. Williamson, who has been a vocal advocate for inclusivity and equality in football, said that wearing the OneLove armband is a way for her and her team to show solidarity with Jankto and all other players who have been discriminated against.
“As a squad, we promote inclusivity and equality. We obviously have a number of people that feel very strongly about it and I think it’s not even a question for us,” Williamson said. “We’re not just impacting football, we’re trying to have a positive impact on society.”
Williamson’s decision to wear the armband is particularly poignant as it comes at a time when the issue of inclusivity in football is in the spotlight. The upcoming World Cup in Australia and New Zealand has come under scrutiny due to the potential sponsorship of the tournament by Saudi Arabia’s tourism authority. Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia are restricted under strict male guardianship laws and homosexuality is illegal, which has led to criticism from players such as USA forward Alex Morgan.
Williamson, who is a defender for Arsenal in the Women’s Super League, called on FIFA and the host nations to make a decision that is in the “best interests of the game” and to ensure that football is a place where everyone is welcome and accepted.
“We make clear statements constantly about the society we want to live in and try to have a positive impact on the world,” she said. “We always make our feelings heard, but ultimately those things will hopefully be resolved in a positive way by FIFA, Australia and New Zealand.”
Williamson also expressed her support for the Canada national team, which is threatening to boycott a camp in April over funding cuts and pay inequality, and for the Spanish players who are refusing to work under their manager, Jorge Vilda.
“One of the main issues for women’s sport in general is the lack of security,” she said. “We have progressive conversations all the time and we’ve got to a place in England where we have the ear of those who make decisions. If we believe we’re missing out on something, or our circumstances could be better, then we would be able to voice that.”
The Arnold Clark Cup is a friendly tournament that is being held in England this month, with the Lionesses hosting South Korea in Milton Keynes on Thursday. The team will also play Italy in Coventry on Sunday and Belgium in Bristol on Wednesday. Williamson said that the matches are important as the team prepares for the World Cup and that they provide a chance to practice against different styles of play.
“I think Italy has grown as a team very much. They’re playing different styles of play, which is good for us to practice against,” she said. “And Belgium, as we’ve seen in the Euros, did very well. They’re good opponents and they are really improving in their game.”
Williamson’s decision to wear the OneLove armband is a powerful statement of solidarity with Jankto and all other players who have been discriminated against. It is a reminder that football is a sport for everyone, regardless of their gender, sexuality, or race, and that players have the power to create positive change in the world.