The “Right Behind Gay Footballers” campaign by Stonewall and Paddy Power is relying on “sexualised innuendo and stereotypes about gay men” – according to the group Football v Homophobia.
It has criticised the campaign’s slogan in a statement, saying: “Football v Homophobia (FvH) was invited by Paddy Power to be a part of the campaign in its early stages. Whilst supporting the overall aims of the initiative, we did not feel comfortable with some aspects of the language and tone, and so felt that we did not wish to take our involvement any further. However, we welcome the opportunity for further discussion and debate around some of the issues of language raised by the campaign.”
FvH added: “Our discomfort is with the reliance on sexualised innuendo and stereotypes about gay men and anal sex, as exemplified by the tag line ‘Right Behind Gay Players’. As an initiative with a strong focus on education, we feel it is incongruous to run a campaign aiming to change football culture whilst using language which reinforces the very stereotypes and caricatures that, in the long term, ensure that homophobia persists. There is a long history, perhaps best captured by the infamous Robbie Fowler incident, whereby anal sex has been the focus of homophobic abuse in the sport.”
A Stonewall spokesman said: “We teamed up with Paddy Power for this campaign precisely because they talked the language of players and fans. The slogan is risque and tongue in cheek but we are proud that it is engaging with fans and players and that they are taking a positive stand.
“The entire campaign has been overwhelmingly positively received and we have been extremely pleased with the response.
“Players and fans are getting the message that homophobic abuse is unacceptable.”
A Paddy Power spokesman said: “We’ve liaised with Stonewall throughout, used their insight and sought their sign off on the activity we’ve carried out. We’ve also had support for the campaign and the activity from the Gay Footballers’ Support Network.
“We did speak to Football v Homophobia about the campaign and we were hugely appreciative of their thoughts on it. We absolutely listened to their point of view and adjusted some of our creative based on their feedback.”
He intends to wear them on Match of the Day this Saturday.
The Gay Football Supporters’ Network (GFSN) has praised Paddy Power for teaming up with Stonewall – although some question the merit of working with the controversial bookmaker.
Trans Media Watch said the advert exposed trans women to ridicule.
Paddy Power has also recently raised eyebrows among human rights activists after it sponsored US former basketball star Dennis Rodman on a trip to North Korea as part of his “basketball diplomacy”.
Ben Rogers, a North Korea expert with Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said: “If Dennis Rodman really feels it is right to be going to North Korea, he is a wealthy enough man to pay for it himself. I don’t know quite why it’s being sponsored by a company.”
In response, the bookmaker replied: “Paddy Power has an existing relationship with basketball legend Dennis Rodman and is supporting him, at his request, in his mission of basketball diplomacy.
“In this regard, we have sought guidance and taken advice from International Crisis Group, a well-regarded NGO with an established track record in North Korea.”