The Belgian national soccer team has canceled plans to release an official song for the World Cup under pressure from women’s rights groups, sponsors and government officials who argued that the chosen artist’s lyrics have been historically sexist and misogynistic, according to multiple reports.
The Royal Belgian Football Association initially resisted efforts to prevent Damso’s music from representing the country in Russia this coming June, arguing in a since-deleted statement on Tuesday that it would not be held “hostage” by the Women’s Council and other groups, but the organization reversed course on Friday, parting ways with the Belgian Congolese rapper, per the Associated Press.
The Belgian national team announced its partnership with Damso in November. The Women’s Council lobbied against the rapper’s “lyrics full of disgust, of contempt and verbal violence towards women,” issuing an open letter to the team’s corporate sponsors. “What does this say about our society?” the letter said. “That we don’t have any problems with hate speech toward half of humanity?”
At least three sponsors publicly denounced the rapper’s obscene lyrics, according to the AP.
After the national team stood by Damso earlier this week, Belgium’s minister of equal opportunity, Zuhal Demir, penned a Facebook post that quoted the rapper’s misogynistic and xenophobic lyrics, suggesting the language would be prosecutable if uttered outside a recording studio. The country outlawed “gendered insults and sexist intimidation” in 2014, according to The New York Times.
“What does this say about our society?” Demir wrote. “That we don’t have any problems with hate speech toward half of humanity?”
Likewise, Belgian vice premier Alexander De Croo told Parliament on International Women’s Day that the national team would be wise to “choose a role model that inspires, not one that discriminates.”
“If they would use all their media powers to promote many Belgian artists instead of criticizing one, Damso wrote of his critics on Twitter on Wednesday, “Belgium would not be the same anymore.”
The rapper drew support from free-speech proponents.
Less than 48 hours later, the Royal Belgian Football Association and Damso parted ways in a “mutual agreement,” according to a statement on the team’s website: “We especially wish to apologize to all those who felt offended, discriminated against or diminished by the choice of the artist in question.”
The statement continued to denounce “the social controversy” as a distraction “from everything that matters to the Belgian Football Union,” including “respect, integrity and anti-discrimination.” The team added, “Unfortunately, this implies that there will be no official song for the 2018 World Cup.”
– – – – – – –