Rugby star Ben Cohen has told MPs at a parliamentary event that sport has a huge role to play in reducing anti-gay bullying.
Speaking last night at a meeting of ParliOut, the Houses of Parliament’s gay staff network, the ex-England international warned of the dangers of complacency and spoke of how the killing of his dad drew him to the cause of campaigning against intolerance.
The 34-year-old also mentioned the government’s ‘Charter for Action to kick homophobia and transphobia out sport’ which was launched by the Liberal Democrat former Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone in 2011.
More than 3,700 individual sports fans and over 40 professional governing bodies including the Football Association, the Rugby Football League and the Rugby Football Union, have since signed the charter, but Cohen said for some it had amounted to a “tick-box” exercise, and greater action was needed in order to make UK sport more LGBT-inclusive.
Cohen said: “Teachers need to be educated” in order to deal with the problem of homophobia in schools.
He also said big multi-national sports companies had a role to play in supporting LGBT-inclusive messages and pro-gay role models.
Attending last night’s event, the Minister for Sport, Hugh Robertson, said that he was “slightly appalled” by the fact that so few sports people feel able to come out whilst still competing.
The Conservative MP also spoke of the need to do more. He said: “There is an awful lot more that remains to be done, and we will absolutely do everything we can to make sure it happens.”
Meanwhile, the Speaker of the House of Commons John Berow was briefly left red-faced after incorrectly referring to Ben Cohen as “openly gay” – at the event – even though the former player has a wife and is straight.
Cohen said the gaffe had been taken with good humour.