“I will always keep defending equality and equal rights for everyone, wherever I will play.”
When Guram Kashia, then vice-captain of Georgia’s national side, wore a rainbow armband while playing for Dutch Eredivisie side Vitesse last October, anti-LGBT protestors in his homeland reacted with riots, smoke bombs and flares.
A rainbow flag was burned outside the headquarters of the Georgian Football Federation, while the defender faced threats and abuse, with calls made for him to be dropped from the national team.
But Kashia, who in June was named Georgia’s captain, has now become the inaugural recipient of Uefa’s #EqualGame award.
The award recognises players who have “acted as a role model” in “promoting diversity, inclusion and accessibility in European football”.
“Guram has taken an important stand to support the LGBT community and equality overall and deserves to win this award,” said Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin.
“Even though his actions sparked threats and abuse from many groups, he preached tolerance and acceptance, and helped change perceptions of this minority group in his native country of Georgia.”
Kashia, who now plays for MLS side San Jose Earthquakes, says he has never regretted wearing the rainbow armband.
“I believe in equality for everyone, no matter what you believe in, who you love or who you are,” said the 31-year-old.
He will be presented with his award at the Uefa Champions League group-stage draw and gala in Monaco on 30 August.
“Football is a force for social change,” Ceferin added.
“People who are role models in their communities and who utilise sport for good should be rewarded.”