Premier League clubs, including Manchester United, Tottenham and Norwich, have refused to back the rainbow laces project because they believe it amounts to an advertising campaign for bookmaker Paddy Power.
The campaign by gay rights charity Stonewall and Paddy Power is based on distributing and encouraging footballers across all 134 professional clubs in the UK to wear rainbow laces at matches this weekend.
But several top clubs say they can’t support the project because they weren’t adequately consulted.
Norwich City’s manager Chris Hughton has confirmed his players will not be wearing rainbow laces during Saturday’s Premier League match with Aston Villa.
The Guardian reports that Norwich have discussed the matter with Stonewall, explaining that the organisation’s partnership with Paddy Power conflicts with their own relationship with SBOBET and use of the promotional material would set a precedent other good causes would attempt to follow.
Manchester United confirmed its player’s won’t be wearing the laces in a statement: “The club supports the League’s central anti-discrimination efforts through Kick It Out. It is a positive move that Stonewall are now speaking to the League directly, rather than working with a commercial provider on a campaign without involving clubs or players at any stage.”
Tottenham Hotspur said: “Whilst the campaign message is positive and one we support, there was unfortunately no prior consultation with ourselves, the Premier League or other clubs. Such consultation would have enabled us to avoid issues in respect of associated third-party commercial entities.
“We have contacted Stonewall directly and let them know that we are supportive and keen to discuss ways in which we can work together going forward. We are committed to working with organisations such as Stonewall and other agencies to eradicate homophobia in football and society.”
Sunderland FC added: “The underlying message is a very positive one and something we wholeheartedly support.
“However, we were not entirely comfortable with the third-party commercial link.”
The BBC reports that most clubs say the first they knew of the campaign when was when boxes, covered in Paddy Power branding, were delivered to training grounds bearing the slogan ‘Right Behind Gay Footballers’.
Paddy Power claimed on Thursday night that they had not mishandled the campaign. A spokesman said: “The rainbow laces and information were distributed to all clubs last Friday, three days before the launch, to give them a few days to discuss with players about supporting the campaign.”
He intends to wear them on Match of the Day this Saturday.
“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,” FvH said.
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.