As Rainbow Laces enters its fifth year, it is hoping to harness one of the few promising themes of 2020. Allyship.
Through the struggles of the Covid-19 pandemic, people have spent more time looking at their own situations, and themselves outright. How we treat each other, and how we can make a difference to improve the lives of others has been a crucial part of that.
The onus, as ever for Stonewall, is on the power of the collective. In partnership with Team Pride, they are distributing almost a million pairs of Rainbow Laces to be worn during the campaign, which starts on Thursday 26 November and runs through to 13 December. Digital activities will complement the "on-field" recognition brought about by partnerships with the Premier League, EFL, SPFL, FA and WSL, RFU Women's Premier 15s, Great British Racing, Premiership Rugby, England Golf, Wales Lacrosse and Scottish Athletics.
This year sees the release of new "Identity Rainbow Laces" which celebrate lesbian, bi, pan, ace, trans and non-binary people. It is a move to give each more visibility at a time when individuals feel like they are blending into the background of a struggling world. It is also in keeping the crux of the campaign's history: simple and unassuming yet empowering.
"For us, it has always been about the context that we operate in," Maria Munir, Stonewall's associate director of community engagement, tells the Independent. "It started with the simple act of putting on those rainbow laces. That support, once visible, has grown to organisations doing things like panels, activating virtually, showcasing stories of athletes, players and individuals."
"We recognise sport has an incredible power to build a sense of community, and LGBT+ people were being left behind. Through the campaign we have seen how that has changed by taking great strides forward."
There are numbers to go with those strides. A poll done by the charity last year found that 65 per cent of British spectators think it is important to challenge anti-LGBT language at sporting events, an increase on previous surveys. That 35 per cent who felt otherwise is no doubt a contributing factor to why 43 per cent of the LGBT+ community feel they are unwelcome at these same events.
Perhaps we can go one step further. Because as has been highlighted through more open conversations about race, silence can be just as culpable when it comes to discrimination. And Munir hopes the lessons learned can be applied here, in principles and action.
"The opportunity of 2020, although the pandemic has shown inequality is rife throughout society, and has exacerbated some of the challenges people face," they say. "It has also shown the power of sport to bring people together.
"Whether that's through their WhatsApp groups, Zoom or anything to build that sense of community, but it shows that sport can change attitudes and really be a home for all LGBT+ people. And by highlighting the important stories of LGBT athletes, and even those who just work in sport, people and organisations can understand how the power of the collective voice can make them feel more welcome."
Just as with the Black Lives Matter movement, Stonewall recognise education is key. As part of Rainbow Laces, there will be content on being a better ally: how to show up for LGBT+ people but also how LGBT+ people can show up for each other given the intersecting identities.
That sentiment is all the more important at a time when people would rather be seen to be a supporter, rather than show it by their actions. Many might put a rainbow in their social media profiles or even change their laces, all the belt and braces stuff you expect from armchair activists. But not much else.
Just last year, an independent media company aimed to assist the Rainbow Laces campaign by getting a men's football team who were not expressly LGBT+ to wear rainbow laces for the month. Among a disappointing number of rejections and last-minute cancellations were the universal response of support but a reluctance "to be seen as a gay team."
Therefore, this is arguably Stonewall's most ambitious campaign since their first. Not just for canvassing support, but also because it is one so reliant on exposure at live events across a variety of sporting fields which is lacking this time around.
"We are really grateful every single year for the amount of clubs and groups that take part in Rainbow Laces has increase. This year is no exception.
"There is a real appetite to talk about what matters, especially within sport. And if we can shine our light on those struggling to be heard and seen, and those who have shown willing to support the community. That's the way we can reduce hate crimes, discrimination and the abuse LGBT+ people get within sport, and show those same people that there will also be people there who have their backs."