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Chris Mannella supports Pride campaign: “The least I can do is stand with them”

Inclusion Player story

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Canadian soccer player Chris Mannella states that everyone within the football industry has a part to play in creating a secure environment for the LGBTQ+ community, including the task of education and awareness.

As part of Pride month, the 27-year-old Atlético Ottawa midfielder is taking part in the “Playing for Pride” campaign, to help raise funds and awareness for Athlete Ally’s mission of making sports inclusive for LGBTQ+ players and spectators.

“I became involved with Playing for Pride a few years ago after being introduced by North Carolina FC player Austin Da Luz, who created the concept. Alongside Athlete Ally, players such as myself commit to making set donations determined by our games played, goals scored etc. during the month of June. We then invite supporters to match our contributions each week, as we work together for a monetary goal as well as raising awareness of the struggles faced by the LGBTQ+ community.

Athlete Ally are an incredible organisation who fight inequality at every level, and campaign for justice and inclusion not only for LGBTQ+, but also for racial equality – with up to half of our proceeds this year being dedicated to the Black Women's Player Collective.

I am really happy to be a part of the campaign, as I truly think it’s making a difference to the world, and it’s something that I want to continue doing for a long time. The initiative is something that is very near and dear to me, as close friends and family members of mine identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, and it’s important to me that I use my platform – however big or small that might be – to help them as they strive for the equality that they deserve.

“Every day I see the struggles that my friends encounter due to discrimination”

Every day I see the struggles that my friends encounter, and I will just never understand the pain that they experience due to discrimination. The least I can do is stand with them, and even that comes with its difficulties.

Publicly aligning myself with Pride has attracted a lot of questions about my own sexuality, with some people even going as far as to use homophobic slurs towards me – purely because of my involvement in the campaign. If I’m being honest, it’s hurtful – and that’s coming from the viewpoint of a straight person. Can you imagine how horrible it would be if those slurs were attacking an intrinsic part of you?

I can see why people are scared to come out in the world of football. As much as I truly believe that Canada is a very progressive country in terms of acceptance, I also know how intimidating a changing room atmosphere can be, how daunting it can be to challenge the views of your teammates or maybe even your coach. If someone who is considering coming out sees a straight person being pushed back on for celebrating Pride, all that’s going to do is push them further into the shadows.

But honestly, that’s part of the reason that this work is so crucial. The LGBTQ+ community has been through enough – everyone else has to play their part in creating an inclusive environment that allows people to feel comfortable to be themselves, and a huge part of that is education.

“I challenge people on their use of language that portrays gay people in a negative sense”

I challenge people on their use of language that portrays gay people in a negative sense. It’s often done in a joking manner, but it’s still really harmful to how we perceive homosexuality as a society. If everyone just stopped using homophobic slurs in their daily speech, then we would be taking a huge step forward.

It’s easy enough to say this, but I accept that I am not perfect either – I do sometimes get intimidated. For example, if I’m walking into a group of eight players who I don’t know that well it can be difficult to muster up the courage to call out a phrase that I know is wrong. I’ve received a bit of mockery and backlash in the past that has occasionally resulted in an argument – and sometimes I’m just not brave enough to insert myself into the middle of it.

I have to be, though. We all do, because what is a potentially awkward social interaction for us is a direct attack on the equality of others – and we need to do our part to kick this out of sport and society altogether.

Entrenamiento Atletico Ottawa Alcala (11)
Chris Mannella in training (left)

I’m proud of my country and Canadian soccer in general as they push for this inclusivity, and The Professional Footballers Association Canada have done some incredible work behind the scenes which I hope helps create a sense of security for those who might need it one day.

However, there’s still a lot of work to be done, and just by educating ourselves and being aware of the existing inequality we can take those first steps. At the end of the day soccer should be for everyone, no matter your race, gender, sexual orientation. If you can play the game, you should be able to do so without fear of discrimination, and if I can help just one person - then that’s an achievement to take Pride in.”