By Coco McPherson, Good Sports
Whether you call it soccer, football, or “the beautiful game,” it’s a global phenomenon.
Played in stadiums, in streets, and in dusty fields all over the world, the game will seize the international spotlight later in June when Russia hosts the 2018 FIFA World Cup in 11 cities — from Sochi to St. Petersburg.
Play Proud is a vital new initiative from Streetfootballworld USA designed to protect some of soccer’s most vulnerable players, and June is Pride Month.
The face of the campaign is American soccer star Megan Rapinoe, a member of the 2015 World Cup team that won gold in Vancouver, Canada. Rapinoe plays for the Seattle Reign FC, one of the founding teams of the National Women’s Soccer League. Proudly out, Rapinoe says that growing up, she would have benefitted from Play Proud’s core mandate of making youth soccer more inclusive and coaches more aware.
Rapinoe believes sports environments have traditionally not been safe spaces for LGBTQ youth, but she hopes this initiative will help change that for the next generation.
“Sometimes kids in the sports system can feel like they’re alone or like they don’t have anybody to talk to,” she said in the promotional video for the campaign. “Coaches want to do what’s right, they just don’t know how or they don’t know how to get information.”
Play Proud is the brainchild of Lilli Barrett-O’Keefe, regional manager for Streetfootballworld USA, a global network of over 125 soccer-based non-profits in 80 countries helping to tackle social issues impacting young people. These include homelessness, gender-based violence, and gang culture. Now, having seen a tremendous need, Play Proud seeks to make youth soccer a safe space by educating coaches and staff about the challenges facing LGBTQ youth.
Among those challenges: a widespread perception that their communities don’t accept them and that youth sports is not safe or welcoming, which is likely preventing participation. According to recent data, LGBTQ youth are twice as likely as their peers to be physically assaulted in school and half as likely to participate in organized sports.