Football V Homophobia: How Can We Tackle It?

If you haven’t heard about the Football Vs.Homophobia campaign then I’m not sure where you’ve been! I recently watched a programme on BBC3 (Britain’s Gay Footballers) presented by Amal Fashanu, the niece of Justin Fashanu the first ever openly gay professional footballer who hanged himself in 1998. This documentary discussed the issues of homophobia in football and it was quite a shock when only one Premier League footballer came forward to even speak about the subject. That footballer was Joey Barton of QPR who spoke about his gay uncle. It was refreshing to see such a high profile footballer who you would never have expected to even approach the subject speak so openly about it.

Since this issue was raised back in 2009 by The Justin Campaign, there has been numerous amounts of campaigning around this subject, and with this programme being on a mainstream channel the campaigning has gotten even more noticed with thousands of people backing it.  Just like racism in football, campaigners also want to kick out homophobia. But why isn’t it as simple as that? Some of the comments made on the programme by fans were reassuring. One man said that there will always be banter from the opposing fans but if one of your team players is gay, you’ll support him no matter what. So why don’t we take this kind of attitude into account and are the fans really the problem? And do we need gay players to come out so we can make the normality of it real for younger people to look up to?

Any player to come out at a higher level, such as the English Premiership, would be a role model to gay men and show that they do exist at the top levels in professional sport.

“Any player to come out at a higher level, such as the English Premiership, would be a role model to gay men and show that they do exist at the top levels in professional sport, and maybe encourage more gay men to take up the sport at the grassroots level,” Scott Lawley told me, the Publicity and Funding Officer for Nottingham Ball Bois FC (Nottingham’s gay community football club). “There is a danger, however, that the media glare would focus simply on the out gay player whilst ignoring wider issues of homophobia in the sport. A player coming out is just one of many important steps in tackling homophobia in football, but real change will have been achieved when more players have come out to the point that any addition to their numbers is barely noticed.”

One of the biggest problems with this is that nobody is sure who to blame. If it isn’t the fans, then is it the FA, the media, or even the agents? Or maybe it isn’t just the one party but everyone? Could we even blame the football teams themselves and believe the changing room remarks? 21 year- old Anton Hyson is the second footballer to come out and plays for the Swedish Third Division. In the BBC3 documentary, Amal Fashanu asked his team’s supporters what they thought of the fact he is gay and nobody cared, including his team mates. The banter in the changing room was the same as before and nothing had really changed. What does need changing is the views on why it would be wrong for a football player to come out and why people see this as a problem. And do footballers who are gay want to come out?

Even though being gay isn’t as frowned upon as it once was, our society doesn’t make it easy. We want people to support the campaign but how do you tackle homophobia in such a large sport? “Culture change is a long-term process, and it is through education and awareness at all levels in the sport, and examples being set at the top levels by players and administrators, that such change will come about,” Scott continues. “Last week in Nottingham we held a panel discussion on homophobia in football which was attended by the Chairman of Nottingham Forest FC, Frank Clark. For a Chairman of such a high-profile club to speak so supportively at such an event is a positive move, and one which I hope will be followed by many more clubs at the top level.”

A few weeks ago I went to see my favourite team Arsenal at the Emirates. There are a number of high profile teams involved with the Football V Homophobia campaign and Arsenal are one of them. They also have the Arsenal for Everyone campaign which celebrates the diversity of the Arsenal community. During halftime I saw this campaign on the big screen in the stadium as well as noticed a rainbow flag fill the advert billboards that surrounds the pitch. The official match day programme has a section about this campaign which also mentioned Football V Homophobia and The Justin Campaign. This in itself is a step forward in recognising equality within football and addressing this issue to fans. I’m just hoping that enough people bought the programme to see it and that they weren’t all buying beers and pies whilst this was showing!

It may or may not seem like such a big deal to you, but just being able to be yourself and knowing that being a homosexual is normal within sport, makes it a big deal for everyone. Football is a widely liked (and disliked) sport and has a huge impact on our society. When a captain of a team is seen to do something wrong, they are stripped of their title because of the importance of the role. Footballers are seen as potential role models but we need that diversity there to show younger generations that being yourself and who you are is not a problem, and that you should embrace it.

If you’re interested in doing your bit for the campaign, check out the list of websites below to find out what you can do. Also, if you are looking to play for a gay/ gay friendly football team, why not go ahead and see if there is one in your area, plus there’s a league too! Check out the gay football supporter’s network all about promoting the support and participation of LGBT men and women in football.

All words copyright Vanity magazine 2012. Taken from issue 11 March/ April 2012
Image copyright Nottingham Ball Bois.

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