Raymond Mashamba is a football referee who has lived in the UK since May 2018. He originally came to the UK on a visit to officiate and referee at the CONIFA Football World Cup which is an international event representing professional football teams who are not affiliated with FIFA.

During the trip, a former acquaintance of Mashamba’s in Zimbabwe took the opportunity to blackmail Mashamba. He threatened to disclose details of Mashamba’s relationship with his boyfriend at the time to members of his local community, including his family. Unfortunately, a local Zimbabwean newspaper picked up the news and published an article about Mashamba. Disclosing his sexual orientation as a gay male to everybody in his own community.

In Zimbabwe, homosexuality is still illegal, and according to various laws passed in 2006. Any acts perceived as “affection between two members of the same sex” are grounds for criminalization, including hugging, kissing and holding hands.  In addition, LGBTI people in Zimbabwe face high levels of violence and harassment on an increasingly regular basis. The newspaper titled their article as Mashamba’s “Gay Storm.”

As a result, it became unsafe for Raymond Mashamba to return home. Facing the possibility of violence and conviction that put his whole life at risk. Mashamba chose to stay in the UK after the conclusion of the tournament, requesting asylum. As Mashamba entered the formal application process for asylum, he received support from the organizers of the CONIFA World Cup as well as the London Titans FC, which is an LGBTI oriented football club based in London. With their help, Mashamba has continued to referee and officiate matches for the London Unity League.

Both CONIFA and the Titans wrote letters of support for Mashamba in his case for asylum. Just before Christmas, Raymond Mashamba’s case for asylum has been accepted and granted. He has been granted a five year stay for asylum, after which he will be able to apply for permanent residence. On the light of this good news, the Titans and CONIFA celebrated with Mashamba. A spokesperson with the Titan’s told Sky Sports…

“Supporting him throughout his asylum bid has highlighted the universal importance of community, especially in the face of prejudice and discrimination. The Titans exists to provide a safe and engaging space for players of all sexualities and gender identities to enjoy their football free from fear of isolation or persecution.”

Taking inspiration from Mashamba’s story, the Titans are planning to establish a fund to assist LGBT refugees and asylum seekers in the UK to help increase access to football and to be a part of the sports community.

Paul Watson, CONIFA Board Member and World Cup director also shared his support…

“We’re really delighted Raymond’s going to have a chance to be safe and to be able to build a life here in the UK,” said Watson.

“We hope the decision opens doors for him to do what he loves, which is refereeing. It’s a cliché that football is a family but the way in which both the CONIFA and LGBT football communities have rallied around Raymond – a person who had no initial support at all when he arrived here – shows a genuine bond. You need family most when you’re in a desperate situation. He’s going to continue to need help, but he’s also got those important support networks in place.”

While Mashamba’s case has had a positive outcome. The refugee and asylum process hasn’t always been easy for LGBTI people. Many people face difficulty in “proving” their sexual orientation and gender identity. Having to provide tons of evidence to show the depth of danger they face in returning home. A 2016 report by Stonewall UK details the experiences that LGBTI asylum seekers face.

Kenneth Macharia a rugby player from Kenya who plays for the Bristol Bisons RC is still working on his asylum application. Having been detained at the airport and coming so close to being put on a plane back to Kenya, he received a temporary stay in the UK but still faces the threat of deportation.

By Dirk Smith