Mohamed Camara celebrates a goal against Nantes. GETTY IMAGES

The French league slapped the Malian midfielder with a four-game suspension on Thursday, after he taped over his shirt’s awareness campaign badge in the last game of the football season, yet his club received no punishment for allowing him to do so.

The now yearly initiative to support the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities by Ligue 1 was widely celebrated on the closing tournament round, yet some pushback still lingers from some footballers, sparking intense national and international controversy. Camara is a repeat offender in this case, as he opted not to play in games when the campaign was heavily promoted in previous seasons.

After condemning the players actions since and calling him to a meeting to explain his motives, the league said it "decided to impose a four-match suspension ... after hearing the player Mohamed Camara and taking note of his refusal during the session to carry out one or more awareness-raising actions in the fight against homophobia".

In a blatant effort to display his non-conformity with said campaign, Camara noticeably taped over the logo on the front of his shirt as he played for Monaco against Nantes on 19 May, a 4-0 win in which he scored a goal. The 24-year-old also chose not to take part in a group photo in which both teams stood behind a banner in support of the LGBTQ community and against homophobia. This was the fourth consecutive season that professional clubs in France had been invited to use rainbow-colored numbers, armbands or patches on their shirts to support the LGBTQ movement.

French Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra called Camara’s actions "unacceptable" and demanded "firm sanctions" against both the player and the club. The star midfielder, who later posted a picture of himself at the Mecca, Islam’s holiest site, praising “Allah’s power and guidance towards the righteous path,” will be able to play two matches in June with the Mali national team, but will miss the first four French League games next season, starting 16 August.

While the Mali football federation still backed Camara’s right to freedom of expression, the footballer was summoned last week to French football’s disciplinary hearing, where he tried to explain his actions. The four-game ban is clear evidence that he did not convince officials, yet it’s hard to interpret the sanction as much more than a slap on the wrist of a repeat offender, while Monaco escaped any punishment whatsoever, despite allowing the player to disregard the league-wide mandate.

According to the French Football Federation’s disciplinary rulebook, the 24-year-old could well have received a ten-match suspension. Monaco did issue a public apology after public uproar spilled over on social media, and indicated possible internal sanctions against the player could be forthcoming, while it did not assist Camara before the disciplinary commission.

"We take note of the decision of the League, which we respect and we will not appeal this decision," Monaco's general manager Thiago Scuro told Agence France-Presse. "Our concern was above all to deal with this situation, to make our club's position clear on the subject, and to explain to Mo (Camara) that his behaviour could be different. Monaco supports the action of the League, the fight against discrimination, the action against homophobia, it is clear for us, it is also clear for Mo."

The Mali Football Federation, however, opted for a different stance once criticism of its prized midfielder spilled over. "Players are citizens like any other whose fundamental rights must be protected in all circumstances," it said in a statement.

According to many non-governmental human rights organisations and media reports, LGBTQ issues remain a taboo topic in Mali, where members of said communities face persecution and public humiliation, often being forced to live double lives. While same-sex sexual activity is not explicitly prohibited, the prevailing culture, ancestral traditions and religious beliefs of most Mali citizens shape their view of such activities and non-traditional gender roles as immoral and evil acts.

Other footballers from African descent have often snubbed LGTBQ awareness campaigns in France, most notably Senegalese-born midfielder Idrissa Gueye in 2022, when he was then playing for PSG, and Egyptian striker Mostafa Mohamed last season.