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Rainbow Laces: Premier League, EFL and Premiership Rugby kick off 2021 activation of LGBTQ+ inclusion in sport campaign

Sky Sports joins fellow TeamPride members in amplifying 'Lace Up and Speak Up' message at heart of 2021 Rainbow Laces campaign activation; "your voice makes a difference," says LGBTQ+ equality charity Stonewall; Premier League clubs begin annual show of support ahead of weekend fixtures

Rainbow Laces 2021 logo graphic
Image: The Stonewall campaign for LGBTQ+ inclusion in sport has a new look for 2021

'Lace Up and Speak Up' is the key message for this year's annual activation of the Rainbow Laces campaign for LGBTQ+ inclusion in sport.

The Premier League and EFL will be among the competitions kicking off a visible show of support this weekend, with coverage across Sky Sports.

With a fresh look and focus, the campaign's central call to action is for athletes, coaches, officials and fans to wear laces while also contributing to conversations that help to ensure people who are lesbian, gay, bi and trans feel welcome and comfortable in their sports spaces and environments.

CARDIFF, WALES - NOVEMBER 16: The Wales red dragon on a rainbow corner flag ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Wales and Belgium at Cardiff City Stadium on November 16, 2021 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
Image: The FA Wales used the recent men's World Cup Qualifier against Belgium in Cardiff as an opportunity to activate Rainbow Laces

Research carried out last year by ICM for Stonewall, the equality charity that co-ordinates Rainbow Laces, showed that one in five sports fans still think anti-LGBTQ+ language is harmless if it is just meant as 'banter'.

However, the campaign continues to make a significant difference. The same survey from 2020 showed that two thirds of sports fans who saw Rainbow Laces consider they have a responsibility to stick up for LGBTQ+ fans of the teams and sports they follow - an increase on the previous statistic.

12 million people engage with the initiative every year, either by wearing laces, through social media, or by putting on events. As well as a range of different laces designs, there are also pin badges with the new logo, headbands, and captain's armbands.

READING, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 13: Leah Galton of Manchester United wears rainbow laces in her hair during the Barclays FA Women's Super League match between Reading Women and Manchester United Women at Madejski Stadium on December 13, 2020 in Reading, England. (Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images)
Image: WSL clubs will show support for LGBTQ+ people during their matches in December - in 2020, Manchester United's Leah Galton wore the laces in her hair!

During Pride celebrations in the summer, England skipper Harry Kane and his team-mate Jordan Henderson were among the players to demonstrate allyship at Euro 2020.

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Since then, a combined number of over 200 out LGBTQ+ athletes took part in the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, while Josh Cavallo's coming out story made headlines worldwide in October and generated thousands of welcoming responses, including from famous figures from across football like Marcus Rashford and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Just last weekend, seven-time F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton made a powerful statement en route to victory at the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix by wearing a rainbow-coloured helmet bearing the slogan 'We Stand Together'.

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Lewis Hamilton explains why he wore a helmet designed with the colours of the Progress Pride flag at last weekend's Qatar Grand Prix

Stonewall's director of programmes Liz Ward is encouraged by the progress around inclusion in sport in 2021 but says there are lingering concerns too.

A recent study found that across Europe, eight in ten (82 per cent) of LGBTQ+ people active in sport have witnessed homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in the preceding 12 months.

"Few things bring us together as much as sport, fitness and physical activity," says Ward," and it's inspiring to see so many people, clubs, leagues, gyms and partners come together for Rainbow Laces season. Since the beginning of the campaign, we've seen awareness grow and grow, with more than one million laces modelled in boots across the world's pitches.

"But there's still a long way to go before every lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer person can bring their whole selves to the sport that they love.

"That's why this year we want Rainbow Laces to take inclusion to the next level and start a conversation about what creating inclusive environments for LGBTQ+ people in sport really means.

"Whether you're a team, an athlete, a fan or a player, your voice makes a difference. Together, we're urging people to Lace Up and Speak Up for LGBTQ+ inclusion, and truly make sport everyone's game."

Rainbow flag from the away fans during the Sky Bet League 2 match between Leyton Orient and Sutton United at the Matchroom Stadium, London on Saturday 20th November 2021. (Photo by Ivan Yordanov/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Image: EFL newcomers Sutton United is one of over 50 clubs in the English leagues to have its own LGBTQ+ supporters group

Rainbow dart flights and Wembley lights

Since 2016, Sky Sports has been a member of TeamPride - a coalition of organisations that works with Stonewall to amplify the Rainbow Laces campaign. The Premier League, Barclays, Coca-Cola, adidas, TikTok, Unilever and Voltarol are also helping to communicate the message this year.

Steve Smith, Executive Director of Content at Sky Sports, said: "We're passionate about delivering the drama of live sport and telling stories about the people who make the moments happen.

"We continue to proudly support Rainbow Laces as a member of Team Pride, raising awareness about LGBTQ+ inclusion on and off the field and encouraging active allyship."

Furthermore, the roster of Stonewall Sport Champions who serve as ambassadors on the campaign has been extended. Joining the group in 2021 are UFC fighter Molly McCann, England Roses netball internationals Stacey Francis-Bayman and Natalie Panagarry, and rugby player Devin Ibanez.

Charlie Martin Rainbow Laces 2021
Image: Racing driver Charlie Martin is among the group of 17 Stonewall Sport Champions

All 20 Premier League fixtures taking place between Saturday, November 27 and Thursday, December 2 will be dedicated to Rainbow Laces. Clubs will show their support through a variety of matchday activities, with branding visible at every stadium, and video content featuring discussion between men's and women's players, as well as members of LGBTQ+ supporter groups, focusing on the power of meaningful conversation and allyship.

The Premier League will also launch new education resources for primary and secondary school children. These resources, supported by Stonewall, aim to empower young people to tackle bullying and offensive language.

Richard Masters, Premier League Chief Executive, said: "Football has a remarkable power to bring people together and it is a priority for the Premier League and our clubs to ensure everybody feels welcome and supported, from players and fans, to staff and all those involved in our many community programmes.

"We and our clubs play an important role in encouraging people to support the LGBTQ+ community. During the Rainbow Laces campaign, we showcase the wide variety of projects and initiatives being conducted all year round to highlight that equality and inclusion are central to everything we do.

"We will continue to ensure that every single Premier League environment is inclusive to all, as well as reinforcing there is no place for discrimination of any kind, wherever it takes place, with those found guilty facing permanent League-wide bans."

Premiership Rugby matches, the PDC's Players Championship Finals in darts, and the England vs Jamaica netball Test series are just some of the events in other sports where the campaign will be activated.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 09: In this image released on November 23, 2021, Alex Dombrandt of Harlequins poses for a photo with a pair of rainbow laced boots during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Season Launch at Twickenham Stadium on September 09, 2021 in London, England. Round Nine of the Gallagher Premiership from 26-28 November is dedicated to the Stonewall Rainbow Laces campaign. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Image: Alex Dombrandt, number 8 with Premiership champions Harlequins, is lending his voice to the Rainbow Laces campaign

Meanwhile, on 'Rainbow Laces Day' on Wednesday, December 8, Wembley Stadium will light up in Pride colours in a show of support from the Football Association.

Watch Sky Sports News on Thursday to learn more about the launch of Rainbow Laces 2021.

Sky Sports is a member of TeamPride which supports Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign, back for its annual activation from November 25 to December 12. Your story of being LGBTQ+ or an ally could help to make sport everyone's game - please contact us here to discuss further.

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