Friday, September 23, 2011


This is a revealing report about football's attempt to try and deal with homophobia.
The makers of an educational DVD that aims to raise awareness of homophobia in football have expressed their frustration at not being able to secure the support of a gay Premier League player they asked to take part in the film ... 

"We approached him thorough a third party and felt quite confident of getting him involved [in the DVD]. But he ultimately refused. There is a log jam in regards to this issue, a final taboo which, in the short term at least, does not appear close to breaking. We're certainly not going to out anyone against their will but, at the same time, getting gay footballers involved would make a big difference in tackling this issue."
The film makers couldn't even get a straight footballer to appear, whilst the Professional Footballer's Association indulged in the sort of sophistry that prevents change, blaming the crowds rather than taking any responsibility for giving a lead themselves.
... the PFA chief executive, Gordon Taylor, suggested that post-Fashanu, and despite its increasingly diverse nature, British football remains too hostile a territory for players to even associate themselves with homosexuality. "It would be unfair to ask an individual to back a campaign like this in case they got targeted by crowds," Taylor said. "It's a macho environment and we believe the time would be more appropriate when crowds are more civilised." 
 Now if football is macho, what about Rugby League? Footballers roll around on the floor for hours when they break a fingernail, whilst in last month's Rugby League Challenge Cup Final one player played most of the game with a badly broken finger where the bone was sticking out through the flesh (in a handling game!) and another came back on to finish the match after dislocating his shoulder. Tough - you bet.

So when Gareth Thomas, the openly gay Welsh Rugby player, switched to play League he got loads of stick in the dressing room - not for being gay, but for having played Union. And when Castleford fans gave him homophobic abuse, the club was instantly fined. It wasn't all plain sailing, Thomas was still prepared to be a pioneer and he talks about it superbly in this marvellous profile. But both he (and other players who have come out), together with the Rugby League were not prepared to hide and have taken a stand against prejudice.

And if that is admirable, then what about Sheffield Eagles? They had a float at the Manchester Gay Pride parade. They also backed the Rugby League's "Homophobia - Tackle it!" campaign by wearing a special shirt with the slogan on it in their home game against Widnes. Tonight they got their just reward, beating Leigh to win a place in the Championship Grand Final from fourth place.

Football's global reach gives it a unique possibility to act as an agent for change. It is able to reach into societies where rampant homophobia is supported by government legislation, yet is reluctant to take a stand on an issue that matters to millions of players and fans world-wide. Not for the first time, it has a lot to learn from Rugby League.

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