Can football ever shake off homophobia?

The news story published in the tabloid newspaper the Sun, highlights the  continuing situation within football where homophobia is still permitted to polute the sport with no sanction for those fans who chant homophobia jeers at the players, or worse still mount homophobic attacks at the grounds.  Two premier league football players who have told their families that they are gay are still very fearful of announcing their situation publically.  One player quoted by the Sun newspaper as saying

 “It’s 2021 and I should be able to be free to tell everyone who I am. But there are some fans on the terraces for whom it is still very much the 1980s. I want to be open with people because it’s who I am and I am proud. But the truth is I will be crucified.”

Gay Lawyers assisted in Gareth Thomas’, a former leading professional rugby player who came out during his professional career, in his campaign to amend the Football Offences Act 1991 to include homophobia.  Gabriele Giambrone was interviewed by Gareth Thomas for the documentary “Gareth Thomas –v- Homophobia Hate in the Beautiful Game” on certain aspects of the law and assisted by drafting a Code of Conduct for the assistance of football clubs in dealing with instances of homophobia.

The Football Offences Act 1991 originally had a section referencing homophobia, as it does racism, however it did not make the final draft and therefore homophobia and homophobic behaviour does not carry any sanctions from any the football clubs, in marked contrast to racism where perpetrators can be removed from the ground and banned from future games.

A private members bill was proposed by Damian Collins in conjunction with Gareth Thomas’s campaign and supported by the former Speaker, John Bercow.  Unfortunately, the bill did not pass through Parliament due to more pressing parliamentary business.  Gay premiership and other footballers can expect very little in the way of official assistance from the Football Association or their own football clubs, despite the declarations on various websites. 

Match officials have a front line role and should have a clear duty to report and document any kind of abuse at all levels. The changes should come from the grassroots level with a policy of up zero tolerance of homophobic abuse at youth level, regardless of whether it is exhibited by players, spectators or parents it should be stamped out, however without sufficient legal weight to follow through, any measures taken will fall short.

Research has shown that fans believe that homophobia is on the rise and it is hard to see any true conviction to rid the fan base and others of homophobia when FIFA has chosen Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup, a country in which homosexuality is illegal.

The only professional footballer who elected to come out so far is Justin Fashanu whose life ended tragically, with exception of Liam Davies of Torquay United.  The niece of Justin Fashanu campaigns on behalf of the LGBT sporting community and has extended her support to the two anonymous premiership players.  Homophobia in football only appears to extend to the male teams the ladies teams do not experience such behaviour.  Men’s football considerably lags behind the more enlightened thinking.  

Gay Lawyers is proud of the association with the campaign to forge new law to offer some protection to LGBT players and will make every effort to support any new initiatives in this respect.