The World Championship in men’s handball is now taking place in France. Iceland have their first match tonight and the team’s captain, Guðjón Valur Sigurðsson, will be showing his support for LGBTI+ rights, by sporting the rainbow flag on his shoe.
Guðjón Valur is considered one of the world’s best handball players and has had a long, successful career, playing with top European teams in Germany, Denmark and Spain. He recently transferred from Barcelona to Mannheim where he now plays for Rhein-Neckar Löwen. But why shoes with a rainbow flag?
“I’m simply all for equality. Having two teenage daughters I’m very much aware of gender bias and other discrimination but as I’ve said before: gender, skin colour, religion or sexual orientation should always be irrelevant. I’m not trying to gain attention or be flaunted as a hero and I know there are those that say sports shouldn’t be mixed with political agenda. I don’t want the whole focus to shift to this small thing because I’m here to do my best for the team. I’m an athlete first and foremost but if I can pull my weight by showing my support in public then I’m happy to do so,” says Guðjón, when asked about this declaration of support for LGBTI+ rights.
Guðjón adds that he was initially inspired by Johan Jepson, captain of IFK Kristianstad in Sweden. He regularly plays with a rainbow armband to show support for LGBT+ rights. “Me and Bjarte Myrhol, captain of the Norwegian team, were intending to wear rainbow armbands during our countries’ match in the European Championship last year in Poland, but were told last-minute it was against the rules about players’ outfits.
“I’m an athlete first and foremost but if I can pull my weight by showing my support in public then I’m happy to do so.”
I thought that was a really weird interpretation of the rules, seeing as they don’t seem to have a problem with us wearing a neon bright, orange armband or what have you.
So I got this idea shortly after the tournament, to decorate my shoes with the flag instead. Surely they can’t order me to take my shoes off in the middle of a game!”
Guðjón’s sponsor, Mizuno Sports Equipment, provide him with shoes and when he asked them for shoes with the rainbow flag, they were more than happy to oblige. Guðjón has already played a few matches with his team in Germany with the rainbow flag on one of his shoes and says his team members and others who noticed thought it was a nice nod to the fight for LGBTI+ rights.
Mizuno have now designed two new pairs for Guðjón for the World Championship, one with the rainbow flag embroidered in both shoes, and the other with Icelandic flags. “It’s more difficult than you would think to have a flag embroidered in but they’ve stood up to the challenge; they’ve put the Icelandic flag on my shoes before, for national matches, so I knew it was possible but they’ve really made an effort this time.”
“I’m not trying to be a rebel; I was frustrated when we weren’t allowed to wear the rainbow armbands last year so sort of feel I have an unfinished business: To make this point.”
Guðjón’s decided to mix it up and wear one shoe with the Icelandic flag and the other with the rainbow flag, showing his support to the LGBT+ community.
Are you not afraid of being banned from wearing the shoes? “I’ve thought of the possibility but find it very unlikely; it would be so pedantry and I think the atmosphere in France is slightly different to what it is in Poland. I’m not trying to be a rebel; I was frustrated when we weren’t allowed to wear the rainbow armbands last year so sort of feel I have an unfinished business: To make this point.”
As silver medallists at the Olympics in 2008 and top 16 qualifiers in the last two World Championships, the Iceland team is always expected to do well at major tournaments. This time, both pundits and the public are somewhat curbing their enthusiasm after the team seemed to struggle during the last friendlies before the tournament, losing to Denmark in their last preparation game.
How do you feel about the upcoming tournament? “Good. I’m always proud to play for Iceland and that hasn’t changed. Our team has changed quite a lot recently and we have a lot of young players; it’s both enjoyable and rewarding to watch them embark on their journey as national team players. The first match is against Spain, who have a very strong team, but I have a good feeling about the game. I know quite a few players in their team and look forward to meet them on the court!”