Toronto FC has teamed up with You Can Play to become the first Canadian Major League Soccer (MLS) club to take part in the project’s online video campaign.
On Dec 3, You Can Play released a YouTube video that used multiple languages to highlight the team’s stance against homophobia in sports.
“We’re thrilled to have the Toronto FC on board,” says Patrick Burke, co-founder of the You Can Play project, which aims to make sports teams safer environments for gay players.
Toronto FC reached out to You Can Play about creating the video. The team joins DC United as the second MLS club to participate in the campaign.
“It’s a cause that everyone is behind,” says Jamie Deans, manager of corporate communications for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE). Deans was part of initial talks with You Can Play and helped facilitate the process.
The video features players Torsten Frings, Eric Hassli, Richard Eckersley, Darren O’Dea, Milos Kocic, Stefan Frei and Luis Silva. Head coach Paul Mariner and academy director Thomas Rongen also appear.
“If you can play, you can play,” says Stefan Frei, Toronto FC goalkeeper. “I don’t care what you do off the pitch.”
Frei, who spoke in Swiss-German in the video, says while he’s never witnessed homophobia in soccer, he believes it exists. To his knowledge, he’s never had a gay teammate but says it wouldn’t be an issue if he did.
“We’re all athletes, whether we’re whatever ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.”
Toronto FC, a team made up of international talent, came up with the idea to include various languages in the video. The team spreads the message of support in English, French, Swiss-German, German, Spanish, Dutch and Serbian.
Toronto FC also shot a version of the video entirely in English. Between the two videos, fans will see appearances by half the team. Some players didn’t participate because others filled their playing position roles.
“All the guys we asked were up for it,” Deans says.
You Can Play has not yet released the second video.
Deans claims that Toronto FC does not have a formal partnership with You Can Play but that a pledge similar to the one the Toronto Marlies signed seems like a logical next step.
“It’s the kind of discussion the team would have to have,” he says.
For his part, Frei says he’d gladly work with You Can Play in the future. “I’d definitely be open to it.”
Discussions between Toronto FC and You Can Play began a few months back. According to Burke, this was around the same time You Can Play was in talks with the Toronto Blue Jays and the Marlies.
The project does indeed share close bonds with Toronto’s sports teams.
“We’re more tied to Toronto than any other sports city so far,” Burke says.
You Can Play has worked with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Argonauts as well. Burke also plans to team up with the Toronto Raptors and the Toronto Furies of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
“We’re obviously very proud of our Toronto connection,” Burke says.