FIFA Investigates Claims That Nigera Banned Lesbians From Playing Soccer

Members of Nigeria's women's national soccer team

The Nigerian Football Federation has officially banned lesbians from participating in competition in the country, the chair of the Nigeria Women’s Football League announced Thursday. The move has drawn an inquiry from FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, since such a ban would violate its anti-discrimination policy.

Nigeria is one of several African countries that have moved to legally ban homosexuality, and Nigerian club officials have boasted of driving lesbians from the game before, but under the new policy, lesbian players will be disqualified from competition and won’t be allowed to join the national team, NWFL chair Dilichukwu Onyedinma said, according to Inside World Football:

“Any player that we find is associated with it will be disqualified.

“We will call the club chairmen to control their players, and such players will not be able to play for the national team,” said Onyedinma. She said the governing body will work with clubs to stop the practice.”

While outright bans on lesbians are obviously (and thankfully) rare, discrimination aimed at gay female athletes is hardly limited to soccer or to Nigeria. The push for LGBT equality in sports has largely focused on men while gay women athletes get ignored, since the stereotypical female athlete is often already presumed to be gay. As Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky wrote when American soccer star Megan Rapinoe came out ahead of the 2012 Olympics, “An openly gay female athlete almost isn’t news. A lesbian in the locker room conforms to a stereotype, just as a straight male athlete is a stereotype.”

But in both American and international sports, there is “an amazing division between lesbians and straight women in sports” that persists because straight women don’t want to be stereotyped as gay, Dr. Pat Griffin, a professor and advocate for LGBT rights in sports, has said before. That has led to discrimination against female athletes who actually are gay and a culture, particularly in American college sports, where both coaches and players are expected to “be straight, or at the very least, act straight.” It’s no wonder then, that many lesbian athletes wait until their careers are over to come out of the closet.

So while Nigeria’s ban is uniquely horrific, and while FIFA will hopefully help put an end to it, it is emblematic of a larger sports culture that remains tilted against LGBT equality not just for men but for women too.