Gay rights activist Peter Tatchell is calling on Arsenal football club manager Arsene Wenger and captain Thierry Henry to speak out against plans by their fans to subject Ashley Cole to gay-baiting ahead of the Gunner’s London derby with Chelsea this weekend.
Cole left Arsenal for the Blues earlier this season and this Sunday’s match at Stamford Bridge will be their first meeting since his departure.
Sections of the travelling Arsenal fans are reportedly being encouraged by supporter’s website Arsenal World to take their revenge by printing fake banknotes with the defender superimposed as the Queen, and by carrying blow-up mobile phones in reference to tabloid rumours about a gay orgy involving the player.
Mr Tatchell has written to Arsenal managing director, Keith Edelman, calling for the taunts to be stopped by ejecting culprits and through a public statement from the Arsenal coach and players.
He said: “Jibes and ridicule by fans are acceptable, but not when they involve racism or homophobia. Bigotry has no place in football. Many years ago racist football fans took blow-up bananas to matches to abuse black players. They also brandished ‘sambo’ images.
“There is nothing wrong with a bit of banter by football fans. Much of it is clever, imaginative and very funny. Having moved to a rival club, Ashley Cole has to expect ridicule from Arsenal fans. But taunts involving racism or homophobia are a taunt too far. Racist mockery is wrong, and so is anti-gay mockery.”
He has also written to the Football Association, and to Chelsea’s Head of Security.
Earlier this year, after Arsenal’s game with Manchester United at Old Trafford, manager Arsène Wenger pleaded with fans not to tease former defender Ashley Cole after some were heard chanting homophobic songs.
Former Arsenal star Ian Wright has also previously backed calls to stamp out homophobia in sport, he told PinkNews.co.uk: “It doesn’t help you perform better if people are teasing you, you just want to go out on the pitch, do your stuff and finish.
“When people go into an office they don’t have to be subjected to discrimination whether they are homosexual, fat, black, thin, tall, small. It’s not going to happen to somebody in an office so why should it happen on the pitch.”
Last June, Cole received an apology and damages from the News of the World and The Sun following a series of newspaper articles that wrongly claimed him to have been involved in a gay orgy.
The tabloids published a series of articles between the 12th and 19th of February 2006 accompanied with pixelated photographs of Mr Cole and the radio DJ Masterstepz (Ian Thompson) although neither party were named.
The following week, PinkNews.co.uk published an unedited version of the photographs that confirmed that the newspapers were alleging that Mr Cole and Mr Thompson were the parties involved in the alleged orgy.
Following the publication of the photographs on PinkNews.co.uk, Mr Cole and Mr Thompson began legal action against the News of the World and the Sun but not against PinkNews.co.uk.
Both Cole and DJ Masterstepz have received an apology and damages for the stories from News Group.