Homophobia in Football
January 29, 2011 4 Comments
If the average football fan was asked to name an openly gay player their answer would more than likely be based on speculation rather than fact. This is because in the modern game only one man has openly declared his sexuality, Justin Fashanu, and he sadly took his own life in 1998.
Homophobia is an issue that has very rarely been tackled in the “beautiful game” and is seen by many as a taboo subject, PR tycoon Max Clifford openly admitted telling two big name Premier league players to keep their sexuality hidden because English football “remains in the dark ages and is steeped in homophobia.”
Is this really the attitude that as a society we should be taking? New research conducted by Staffordshire University suggests otherwise, at a time when football’s governing bodies have been told they should be more supportive to openly gay players this comes as welcome news.
Professor Ellis Cashmore one of those involved in the survey said, “It is inconceivable that, out of 500,000 registered players around the world, not one is gay. The truth is that football culture is prohibitive: gay players have neither the confidence nor inclination to come out.”
Assumptions have been made that fans are homophobic toward players and would not accept them in their team but research suggests that this is certainly not the case, in a survey of 3,500 fans, players, referees, and other officials 91% of participants believed that player performance was their greatest concern, while only 9% admitted to being openly homophobic.
Of those that took part in the survey the vast majority believed that the reasons gay players chose to keep their sexuality a secret were down to lack of support from clubs and governing bodies and also because many feared abuse from fans. It is believed that agents have advised players that being openly gay could affect their value and chances of a transfer; Cashmore suggests, “clubs don’t like players that court controversy”, it seems that they are commodities before humans.
Other sports seem to have tackled the issue better than football, for example when Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas was the target for homophobic abuse during a Super league match against Castleford, the conduct of the home fans saw the club fined a record £40,000. British basketball player John Amaechi came out in 2007 and was the first NBA player to do so in history, and is now a passionate believer in sports men and women needing more support and assistance in dealing with the issue.
Yet football seems to struggle with the idea of gay players, there is a distinct lack of initiatives from the football association and many players would argue a lack of support from the PFA also, Dr Jamie Cleland, who was involved in the research said, “One of the main problems for gay players is whether or not they can count on the support of the PFA.”
An issue that is just as important and serious as racism and hooliganism needs to be addressed in greater detail and offer better support to those that need it. Anyone that is of the belief that gay footballers do not exist is simply avoiding the issue, 30% of professional players surveyed said they knew a gay player, but astonishingly 84% of participants believed that those gay players were under overwhelming pressure to stay silent.
In today’s ever evolving society players should not feel the need to hide who they are, homosexuality is not only accepted but celebrated, and it seems those assumptions that fans are against homosexuality is wide of the mark, one fan who took part in the survey said, “I’d rather have a gay player that can play football, than a straight one that can’t.”
The Football Association have launched limited initiatives to try and combat the issue; they put together a sixty second video to raise awareness about homosexuality in football. It was devised by the “Kick it Out” campaign that has seen huge success in the fight against racism in football, the video was described as “ground-breaking” and received large scale support from the gay community. Though it has to be said unlike the fight against racism not a single high profile player has come forward to front or support the campaign.
It seems that the support is there from fans and it would most definitely be welcomed in all areas of the game but this continuing culture of silence from players and pressure from agents and clubs seems to be where the bulk of the problem lies. Cashmore went on to say, “Our conclusion is that this is not a healthy condition for football and our concern is that football, in this sense, is out of tune with the rest of the sporting world.” As a result of this research both Professor Cashmore and Dr Cleland have sent recommendations to football’s governing bodies suggesting what can be done to help improve the situation.
Though the research reveals a positive image of football culture within this country and seems to disprove the theory of being stuck in the dark ages and steeped in homophobia there is still much more to be done to prevent another tragic incident like that of Justin Fashanu and to simply help and support gay players within the game.
by Patrick Giffney