Everton FC has become the first Premier League football team to announce that its players will wear rainbow laces in support of an anti-homophobia campaign.
The laces have been distributed to every footballer across all 134 professional clubs in the UK. Each player is asked to wear the laces in their club fixtures on Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 September. The campaign’s message of “Right Behind Gay Footballers” is designed to kick start a change in attitudes and make football more gay-friendly.
Paddy Power and Stonewall are asking fans and the public to back the campaign by taking to social media and using the hashtag #RBGF, Right Behind Gay Footballers, during the week and in the build-up to the weekend fixtures.
England defender Jagielka commented on the decision ahead of playing against West Ham this weekend, saying: “For me and the rest of the lads at Everton a player’s sexuality is not important, but their ability on the pitch is.
“We don’t tolerate discrimination of any kind at Everton and the whole club works hard to get that message out to the fans.
“No one should feel that they can’t be themselves – on or off the pitch – so that is why we are supporting this initiative.”
The Premier League has said it was not consulted over the campaign. A spokesman said: “The underlying message behind this campaign is a good one, indeed we and our clubs have worked hard with government and other stakeholders to ensure the whole equalities agenda is something we fully are aware of and engaged in.
“However, we were not consulted about this particular campaign. Had we been involved earlier in the process we could have worked with Stonewall to consider things like boot deals, the use of particular betting partners, and other issues.
“It is up to individual clubs and players to decide whether they support this campaign. We have let Stonewall know that we would be happy to talk to them in the future to discuss ways in which we could work together.”
Stonewall has stood by the decision to include the bookmakers, despite some controversy over its inclusion, and over the name of the campaign, which some perceived as potentially homophobic.
The gay rights charity said it teamed up with Paddy Power because it felt the bookmakers could communicate with the players and fans who the campaign is aimed at.
Queen’s Park Rangers midfielder Joey Barton, who is straight, is supporting the campaign. He said the “bureaucrats” in football have been guilty of not taking a tough enough stance against homophobia.