Football and the LGBTQ community – Some done, a lot more to do

“All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.”  ― Harvey Milk.

Last weekend Hector Bellerin sat down for an interview with The Times of London, in the interview Bellerin discusses his love for art and fashion, gives his thoughts on Brexit and the fight for Catalonian independence.

The biggest sound bite that many news outlets have led with since the publication of this interview last weekend is Bellerin stating that

it is impossible for players to be openly gay in the Premier League.

In discussing growing his hair out, Bellerin states that he has been on the receiving end of homophobic abuse from football fans and while most of the abuse is online, Bellerin stated that he has had homophobic slurs shouted at him during matches.

While society has grown a lot over the past decade and people are much more accepting of people from the LGBTQ community than they use to be, football still lives in a bubble where it is doesn’t want to deal with this issue head on. While it is wholly accepting of people from the LGBTQ community with many campaigns run to show that football is open to everybody, there has yet to be an openly gay player playing in the upper echelons of the game.

Speaking of such campaigns, the Rainbow Laces campaign, which is run by Stonewall, has shone a new light on the subject of LGBTQ equality in football, but did it actually change people’s attitudes in regards to homophobic abuse and did it stop people shouting such abuse at players.

We can’t tell if Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign reduced the amount of homophobic language chanted during football matches, however, the campaign was effective in an eight percent decrease in 18-24 year-olds and 25-34 year-olds sports fans thinking that homophobic language is unacceptable.

While that is only quite a small percentage of football fans in those age brackets, it is a small step in the right direction.

In a few week’s time the Rainbow Laces campaign will begin again and football clubs across England will wear rainbow laces, clubs will change their profile picture on their various social media platforms to one with a rainbow flag emblazoned with the club crest, then a week later the campaign will end, clubs will revert to type and the PR exercise will be over for another year.

This isn’t good enough and LGBTQ footballers will need proper support from their clubs and from footballing authorities if they are going to decide to publically come out, while teammates will be reassuring, supporters and particularly supporters of the player’s rival club could use this to undermine the player and affect their performance.

In 2012 former Man United and current Burnley goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard said that “Homosexuals are in need of a hero” and that may very well be the only way that the LGBTQ community finally gain complete acceptance from the world of football.

As previously mentioned, it seems like the campaigns around LGBTQ equality in football have seemed like a PR exercise from the point of view of clubs and footballing authorities.

It appears that it is going to take one player coming out and unfortunately receiving all kinds of homophobic abuse from supporters online and in stadiums for football to finally have the wake up call it so desperately needs.

Whoever that footballer is will be subject to homophobic abuse, in the world we live in today there will be trolls online who will post homophobic and hateful comments for some vile reason.

Certain newspapers will publish tasteless content in order to sell more papers and while we all know that it is wrong, this kind of cashing in on a story is sadly part and parcel of the world we live in, what we must do is fight it and make sure the people who write such things are condemned.

Following on from this, we must also take action at a youth level to make sure the next generation are educated in seeing that homophobic behaviour is repulsive and unacceptable, that’s what the Rainbow Laces campaign has started to slowly do for football, and one day football will get there, but it’s not quite there yet.

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Evan Coughlan
Evan Coughlan

I bloody love football

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