Gloria De Piero: I hope rainbow laces will show that there is no place in football for homophobia
Labour’s shadow minister for women and equalities Gloria De Piero writes for PinkNews on the return of Stonewall’s rainbow laces campaign, saying football is a family sport, and that there should be no place for homophobia.
If you’re a football fan, chances are you’ll have sat in the stands and heard some homophobic abuse. For most straight people it can feel uncomfortable but if you’re a gay fan or player this can be a pretty intimidating experience.
Football is a family game. Yet Stonewall research found seven in 10 fans say they’ve heard anti-gay language and abuse on the terraces and a sixth of fans say they’d be more likely to go to games if homophobia was tackled by clubs. The Home Office doesn’t even record homophobic chanting as a separate incident. How can we begin to tackle an issue when we don’t know its true scale?
Twenty years ago the Commission for Racial Equality launched the Kick It Out campaign to tackle the appalling levels of racism on and off the pitch. We’ve made a lot of progress since then, although it’s far from job done. But we’re years behind when it comes to tackling homophobia.
Sexuality isn’t like race, you don’t wear it on the outside. About 5-7 per cent of the population is lesbian, gay or bisexual yet only one professional player in the history of British football has felt able to speak openly about his homosexuality whilst still in the game. Justin Fashanu faced discrimination both on and off the pitch for the rest of his career and committed suicide at just 37.
I take my hat off to Thomas Hitzlsperger who’s had the bravery to speak openly about his sexuality and attitudes within the industry towards it. The same goes for Sky Sports presenter Mark McAdam who had the bottle to come out on the front cover of Gay Times mag.
But not every player or industry member can or wants to be a campaigner. Like most people, whether gay or straight, they want to get on with their jobs without feeling like they have to change who they are or the person they present to fit in. And why shouldn’t they?
That’s why to achieve real change – in football, and right across sport – leadership must come from the top.
So it’s fantastic to see this year the Premiership and Arsenal both supporting Stonewall with their Rainbow Laces campaign. The simple symbol of coloured laces sends a message of solidarity to players and fans that homophobia isn’t just banter, and that enough is enough.
The FA’s anti-racism rules allow them to fine players and level match bans, and clubs have a lot of tools at their disposal too, with Norwich City FC recently banning two fans for racism.
The onus is on the FA now to make sure that this message of zero-tolerance is converted into action. And that must go all the way to the grassroots game too. After all, football is a family game, so let’s make sure our kids don’t grow up thinking that homophobia is OK.
Gloria De Piero is the shadow minister for women and equalities and MP for Ashfield.