Is it time for football to tackle homophobia?

Last week saw the sensational news of England and Surrey wickertkeeper Steven Davis revealing he was openly gay. In the process, becoming the first playing professional cricketer to do so.

When coming out to the media Davis spoke of his ‘massive relief’ and of how his declaration can help future sportsmen and women to be comfortable with their sexuality.

He said: “If I can just help one person to deal with their sexuality then that’s all I care about.”

Davis came out to his family and friends five years ago but only to his teammates on the eve of England’s hugely successful Ashes tour.

“It was a fantastic thing to do, telling the lads,” he said.

“The difference is huge. I am so much happier.”

Davis pointed to rugby international Gareth Thomas, having declared himself as openly gay in 2009, as his inspiration to giving him the confidence to no longer keep his sexuality a secret.

Gareth Thomas and Steven Davis are only the second and third British professional sportsmen to come out during their playing careers.

The first of course was Justin Fashanu who in 1990 became the first and remains, the only professional footballer to come out of the closet.

Blessed with talent that most players can only dream of, Justin did not gain the mature and positive support from his teammates and the terraces that Davis and Thomas have enjoyed.

Even Justin’s own brother John, also a professional footballer, distanced himself from him and publicly slated him.

Such was the stress upon his shoulders Justin committed suicide in 1998 following an accusation of sexual assault involving an 18-year-old. In his suicide note, Justin maintained his innocence and that the encounter was consensual.

His death should have been the defining moment where football was forced to tackle the issue of homophobia head on, yet nothing happened.

This begs the question, ‘Why is football lagging behind in terms of moral tolerance?’

Over recent years FIFA and UEFA have successfully combated racial hatred and other forms of discrimination, yet severely overlooked the issue of homosexuality and have only recently begun to acknowledge the issue and a snails pace compared the rest of the sporting world.

Alan Duffy, director of communications at The Justin Campaign (a charity raising awareness of homosexuality in football, named in Justin’s honor) said:

“Football, despite its wealth and media savvy, remains inextricably linked to a traditional idea of machismo. And linked to this is the dreaded ‘banter’, an over-used excuse for inherently bigoted views to be shouted from the terraces and spewed out on chat-rooms and phone-in radio shows.”

Approximately 10% of the male population are homosexual; it is unfathomable that of the thousands of professional footballers in Europe, not a single one is openly gay.

Football terraces have long been a place where a persons moral standards drop, people say things they normally wouldn’t say in polite conversation.

Vile and malicious chants emanate from the stands about players’ personal lives, from their partners, incidents in their past and even to their children.

Yet despite the stereotypes, the majority of modern respectful fans have drawn a line under on what is acceptable and what goes beyond the realms of the aforementioned ‘banter’.

True supporters of Liverpool and Manchester Utd for example would never allow themselves to participate in chants in reference to the Hillsborough Disaster or The Munich Air Disaster.

This was demonstrated when members of Liverpool supporters union, Spirit of Shankly surrendered membership upon viewing of a video of other union members chanting the songs in question at an official rally.

Football fans are not beyond comprehending a homosexual player playing for their club, the same as they weren’t beyond accepting a coloured player. The game as a whole needs to be supportive on the issue from lowest level to the elite.

It will take a brave player to be the first of the new millennium, but he will pave the way for others.

As we all know happy players are better players. We watch football for the love of the game, to see players perform feats we can only imagine. Does it really make a difference to us what their sexuality is?

The only thing that matters is that they produce the goods on the pitch week in week out; that’s what first drew us all to the game in the first place and the reason why we care so passionately about it.

If Lionel Messi or Christiano Ronaldo turned round tomorrow and said they were gay, would it make any difference to their ability with a football? It may be uncomfortable for some fans to deal with to begin with, just as it was with the first colored players but in time will be accepted by future generations was normal.

There may be cries of “I don’t want my son to grow up idolising a gay.” but at the end of the day, it is ignorant and foolish to assume that doing so could affect someone’s inherent sexuality.

Its acceptance and tolerance that is needed to change the game. Who knows how many great players the world has missed on on, those who would rather not play the game due to the stigma attached to it.

Mr Duffy (director of communications at The Justin Campaign) neatly summed up the issue saying:

“Maybe the question we should avoid asking is when exactly will another footballer come out. It may be tomorrow, it may be in two years’ time. But rather than focus on the possibility of a player coming out, we need to make sure that football continues its evolution from ignorance to tolerance.”

Author Details

Brian Irvine

Brian is a journalist from Belfast, Northern Ireland. Focusing mainly on Liverpool FC, La Liga and football culture.

3 thoughts on “Is it time for football to tackle homophobia?

  1. In Sweden a professional footballer in the third division yesterday became the first footballer in Sweden to go public with his homosexuality. So far there has been only positive reactions which is great.

  2. “He’s an outcast, I wouldn’t want to play with him, let alone get changed in the vicinity of him.” – John Fashanu, shortly after Justin came out in 1990

    “I have to admit that it would be a very, very brave footballer who admits he is gay and then goes out on the pitch.”
    – British Sports Minister Tony Banks, 1999

    Shocking that it has taken this long but there does finally seem to be a changing of attitudes towards homosexuality in sport leading to a number of athletes recently ‘coming out’.

    Donal Og Cusack opened up the door for other gay GAA players to follow in 2009 and let’s hope it is only a matter of time before a Premier League star does the same!

  3. I’m not saying this is how it should be, but I can’t see a huge turning of the tide any time soon in English football. I imagine there are several gay footballers playing in the Premiership at the moment, but the sort of treatment they would get from fans and opposition players would make their lives hell.

    Again, I’m not saying I would dish out any of that treatment, but I do feel that this is what would happen.

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