The Men’s Football World Cup kicks off today in Qatar, starting one of the most controversial tournaments in history. As a football fan, the build-up to a major tournament is normally one of excitement, sweepstakes and pinning up a wall chart to follow the progress of the teams. The feeling this year is certainly very different.
Since the tournament was awarded to Qatar back in 2010, the issues that surround this World Cup have been well documented. This includes the death of migrant workers that have built the stadiums, Qatar’s human rights record against the LGBTQ+ community, the alleged corruption in how they won the bid and the environmental impact of the tournament.
Football currently is trying to promote itself as a game welcoming for all, but after a World Cup in Russia last time and now in Qatar, it certainly has not been a welcoming place for fans from the LGBTQ+ community. This has also led me to question more about my support from home.
I have to admit, last time when the tournament was in Russia, I did watch the tournament, but it was more of a welcome distraction following major heart surgery. This time, I will not be watching the tournament.
This does not mean that I am not praying that England does well in the tournament. The current England team have shown their commitment to a more inclusive world through their actions over the last few years. It is not their choice as to where the World Cup is held and it is unfair to punish them for decisions taken by the FIFA committee.
I have been thinking about how to get my football fix during the next few weeks. This is the perfect chance to head along to your local non-league, women’s or LGBTQ+ inclusive side to show your support for the game. Let’s strip away the money in football this winter and get back to the grassroots of football and remember why we love the beautiful game.
You might have heard about the twitter account which was set up by a footballer to pave the way for a breakthrough in English football that would likely give hope and encouragement to so many. When the account @Footballer Gay was set up, the individual behind it said they were a professional footballer playing in the English Football Championship. They were set in motion the process of publicly coming out, liaising with the manager and owner, to be the first professional player in the UK to come out since Justin Fashanu in 1990. The date of the announcement had even been set – 24 July 2019.
As a gay man who loves football, the prospect of having
an openly gay man playing in the English league filled me with hope and
encouragement that things maybe, at last, changing in football, and what seems
to be the last stronghold where homosexuality is not welcome might finally be
However, on the eve of the announcement, a post was put up saying “I thought I was stronger. I was wrong.” A more detailed tweet followed shortly after. The account was later closed.
Because of the sense of optimism, I had, I was following
the account and check back for updates from the time I first discovered the
account until its deletion. There were many who were supportive of this individual,
some who thought it a hoax because of the way the announcement was being
dragged out, and some were outright vile. There are also some details around
saying that death threats had been made towards this individual.
During the time @FootballerGay was posting, another
account claiming to be a Premier League footballer at Norwich City appeared,
and was later confirmed a hoax, and since the closure of @FootballerGay’s account,
several other accounts have appeared, one even naming a player.
Whether or not the original account was a hoax, and I for
one am not making the judgement, it showed that there is still a homophobic
element within both the fans and the country. It also confirms that social media
has a dark underbelly. The faceless interaction where you can say something
with the protection of relative anonymity and not have to be witness to the
impact of your comments.
The question also needs to be looked at to see if
football is ready for an openly gay or bi man to come out. With football being
a worldwide sport, larger clubs might be keeping one eye on the commercial aspect
and how it could impact on the club’s fortunes aboard. On the flip side, there
could be a commercial gain to have an openly gay or bi man at the club that creates
additional revenue streams. The worldwide aspect in larger clubs might also
come into play with the broad range of nationalities that are in the dressing
rooms, and how tensions may arise from cultural or religious beliefs between
teammates on the issue of a gay player.
However, the biggest concern is still a small minority of
fans. With there still a deep-rooted issue with racism, highlighted by the testimonies
of players such as Danny Rose and Raheem Sterling, as well as being witnessed
by TV cameras at away international matches, what sort of reaction would a gay
or bi player get? Despite campaigns such as the Rainbow Laces campaign, homophobia
is still present on the terraces, directed at players and fans.
The men’s game is in sharp contrast to the women’s game. At the recent 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, there were 41 out LGBT competitors, 5 of whom played for England.
However, I don’t want to be too negative as there are green shoots. As a Liverpool fan, I am incredibly proud that Liverpool FC was the first Premier League team to take part in a Pride march back in 2012. This weekend sees LFC’s CEO, club staff and families join Kop Outs, the LFC LGBT+ fan group, on the march. Anfield’s famous Kop is also being bathed in rainbow colours each night this week in the lead up to Pride. Clubs are engaging more with their LGBT+ fans, with Kop Outs being just one example of LGBT+ supporter groups through the English League.
My hope is that lessons are learnt from this, from clubs,
teammates, managers, clubs and most important gay and bi players. I really hope
that what has happened will help the process to give young lads who are growing
up questioning who they are another role model to look up to. As a football
fan, I would love to see an openly gay or bi man play for either of my teams or
even against them – and I would still be cheering if they score! If this
episode has delayed that for any reason, then the quest goes on for the Gay
With Lincoln hosting its Pride festival for the LGBT community this last weekend, it is important to remember why the LGBT community still holds these events, not only up and down the country, but across the world.
Although LGBT rights have come a long way since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967 across England and Wales; such as the end of Section 28, Civil Partnership and now Equal Marriage, adoption rights for LGBT couples, being openly gay in the British forces and an the right to legally change your gender; there are still some areas that need to be tackled.
The LGBT community still faces opposition and discrimination in many forms. It was reported by The Lincolnite last week that many homes within the city received a leaflet through their door condemning homosexuality. This comes after similar events in Leicester and Brighton. I respect people’s right to have an opinion and to express it; however the leaflets residents received pushed the bounds of decency and locals never requested to receive such opinions through their letterboxes. It has caused offence to many members of the community whether they are gay or straight and I am pleased the police are taking this matter seriously.
There are also still large numbers of incidents of members of the LGBT community who are attacked simply for being who they are. In 2011/2012, the UK saw over 4,000 incidents of ‘gay bashing’ with some police forces showing a rise of up to 40%. A survey, published in 2013, showed that a quarter of gay people had been attacked at some point in their lives across the European Union.
We need to head abroad for the biggest challenges in the
fight for LGBT rights. Across the world, 81 countries still have laws that make
homosexuality illegal; from Algeria through Egypt and Morocco to Zimbabwe in
Africa, Afghanistan and India to Singapore and Yemen in Asia and the Middle
East, Barbados to Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago in the Caribbean. But 38 of
these countries have laws that make homosexuality punishable by death. I find
the possibility of someone being punished by death for being gay intolerable.
We have also seen an anti-gay propaganda law in Russia passed by President Putin which has led to a number of attacks and arrests through the country on members of the LGBT community.
I am pleased to see that that Lincoln Pride is continuing to grow from strength to strength over the last couple of years. The LGBT community is part of a diverse and growing city, and I am happy that so many people supported the event, even though I could not make the event myself. The comments from The Lincolnite‘s coverage of Lincoln Pride also show that many people still do not understand the true meaning of why Pride takes place. More education should take place in our schools as to equality and diversity to help people understand the need for such an event.
We do need to remember that many of the LGBT community
across the global are not so lucky. By the LGBT coming together to celebrate,
it gives us time to reflect that this country, despite coming a long way since
the 1960s, we have a long way to go before true equality here and a duty to
help other LGBT communities across the world.
Football players up and down the country this last weekend played their part in helping to stamp out homophobia in football, and to some extent, sport in general. Compared to other public domains, sport still has less LGBT representatives than most, and this applies especially to football.
Players from clubs from every division and every part of the country laced up their boots with ‘Rainbow Laces’ to show their support for stopping homophobic attitudes in football. As a gay man and a football fan, I know that homophobia still exists in some forms in football.
After going to watch my hometown team, Lincoln City playing
Braintree Town at home, I heard some homophobic comments from the stands, and
although it was not directed at an openly gay player and by many is seen as the
banter of the terraces, it still is homophobic. Comments such as ‘Stop playing
like a pansy’ or ‘You’re not injured! Get up you fairy’ should have no place in
any arena of life, not even a football stadium.
Fans and players of Brighton and Hove Albion have also
been subjected to homophobic chanting over many years due to Brighton’s connections
to the gay community. In the 2012/13 season, Brighton and Hove Albion submitted
a study to the FA, the Football League and the Football Supporters Federation
showing Brighton fans suffered homophobic abuse from 72% of opponents in that
season, in 70% of away games and in 57% of all matches. This included
allegations of chanting, gestures by players and threats made to supporters
leaving a game. The report, which go into detail and the responses from the
opposition clubs involved, states: “Some of the chants are fairly mild
(“does your boyfriend know you are here”) and some more unpleasant
(“you’re just a town full of faggots”).
They are homophobic whether they are directed at a gay
person or a straight person and they do cut to the bone, often worse than any
type of physical injury. Whether they are heard by a player or fan who is
struggling with their sexuality or if they are out and proud, it still hurts. There
is also the matter that if this taunts directed at fans and players were about
the colour of their skin, the chants would never be considered acceptable in
the game today.
There is a glimmer on the horizon. After a string of
personalities from other sports coming out such as diver Tom Daley, former
rugby star Gareth Thomas, Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe, American Football star
Michael Sam or Olympic boxer Nicola Adams; football is finally beginning to
Recently Thomas Hitzlsperger, the former German international and Aston Villa player, came out after retiring from football in 2013, and Robbie Rogers, US international and former Leeds United player, retired and came out in 2013 but then re-started his career playing for LA Galaxy in the United States. One of the poster boys for gay footballers is Anton Hysén, son of the former Liverpool player Glenn Hysén, who came out in 2011. He is currently playing for Myrtle Beach FC in the USA.
There is also a number of football stars in the women’s
game who have publically come out, most recently Casey Stoney, the former
England and Lincoln Ladies captain, who is currently expecting twins with her
partner Megan Harris, who also played for Lincoln Ladies.
But currently, there is only one openly gay male player in English football. His name is Liam Davis who plays for Gainsborough Trinity and he has been open about his sexuality for five years. Before the Rainbow Laces weekend, BBC Newsbeat interviewed the 23 year-old winger and he said that he wanted the players and clubs to have the Rainbow Laces for a whole season to show true support for stamping out homophobia in football.
With the Rainbow Laces, it is a sign that football is
making headway and also that Liverpool FC made history as being the first Premier
League club to take part in a gay pride parade at the 2012 Liverpool Pride
event shows that clubs are being more inclusive, but I have to agree with Liam
Davis and say that the Rainbow Laces campaign should last a whole season.
I am very proud that Liam Davis is playing for a club in my home county of Lincolnshire, but I have to say I hope he is not the last gay footballer to be out and proud in the English leagues.