The news that the Gay and Lesbian Football Association World Championship is coming to London next year will be music to the ears of the ever-growing gay football community in the UK.
Last week’s launch event at the Football Association headquarters in Soho Square was attended by the great and the good from the gay community and the football world.
Several Members of Parliament were there to lend their support along with gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, sporting a shiny black-eye after his recent trip to Moscow, former Boyzone singer Stephen Gately and football legend Sir Trevor Brooking.
Representatives from all of London’s gay football teams were also present, including current World Champions Stonewall FC and Leftfooters FC, who are hosting next year’s tournament.
The matches will take place in Regents Park between Sunday 24th and Saturday 30th August 2008 and the final will be held at Leyton Orient’s Matchroom Stadium in East London, which has a capacity of over 7,000.
As well as the support from leading football luminaries such as Sir Trevor, London Mayor Ken Livingstone, Minister for Sport Richard Caborn and even the Prime Minister himself all sent letters backing the championship and praising the gay teams for their success.
Mr. Blair said in his letter:
“Sport possesses an extraordinary capacity to dispel ignorance, challenge prejudice and break down barriers between all sections of the community.”
At the launch I managed to chat to openly gay MP Chris Bryant, who said that even though he can’t kick a football to save his life, he is delighted that the Championships are coming to London and that the FA have given their full backing.
“The human rights we often take for granted are denied many around the world and this is yet another way of showing the world the value of respecting the rights and lifestyles of all,” he said.
I also spoke to Clive Betts MP, who is the Chair of the Parliamentary Football Club.
Mr Betts is an influential voice in Parliament for football and has been a consistent friend of the gay footballing community.
He recently sponsored a motion in Parliament about homophobia in the game and last year playing in a match between MPs and Stonewall FC.
“Next year’s tournament is great news for football and also great news for equality.
“The fact that the FA have lent their support so strongly is absolutely crucial.
“In the last few years they have moved light years ahead of their previous position on gay rights and that deserves recognition.
“There is a long way to go to make football a more gay-friendly environment, but there are positive signs we are moving forward.”
Given all the criticism the football authorities have been subjected to over the levels of homophobia in the beautiful game, it was heartening to see the FA offering such unwavering support.
As well as lending their facilities for the launch and proving the esteemed guests with bottomless glasses of champagne, Simon Johnson, FA Director of Corporate Affairs, spoke eloquently about their support for the tournament.
Perhaps with the support of MPs, the London gay community and the FA, next year’s IGLFA World Championships will send out a serious message to the Football world that, contrary to the stereotypes, gays and lesbians are serious about football and have a role to play at all levels.
For more information on the London 2008 International Gay and Lesbian Football Association World Championships click here