No Pride in Football: Homophobia still rife in the sport

Recently, Stonewall launched their second annual rainbow laces campaign, met with much more success this time around. The campaign is aimed at combating homophobia within football by having players lace their boots with rainbow laces, the colours of the LGBT flag. Last year, a lack of communication between the charity and clubs derailed the cause, due to boot sponsorship deals and issues with Stonewall’s partner and sponsor Paddy Power. However, this year, spearheaded by Arsenal football club, players up and down English football have been lacing up, and over 320 million Twitter impressions made.

An admirable cause no doubt, and one that has sparked debate and got people talking about the issue. However, too much of the rhetoric has been self-congratulatory. The footballing world has given itself a massive pat on the back for being so tolerant and accepting of players lacing their boots, but every week, in every league, from grassroots to the Premier League, homophobic language is bandied about. It is a similar situation as that which occurred when Thomas Hitzlsperger came out in January. The footballing community was so quick to announce its acceptance of the former Aston Villa player, taking pride in its public display of tolerance, but failing the question why the German had not felt able to come-out until after he retired, or why American winger Robbie Rogers kept his homosexuality a secret until he quit Leeds United.

According to Stonewall, seven in ten fans have witnessed homophobia whilst attending a football match, yet only 43% believe football to be an anti-gay sport. Unfortunately, to so many, homophobic language is just part and parcel of the game. Calling a player a ‘puff’ has become synonymous with calling a player ‘crap’, labelling a decision as ‘gay’ seen as no different to saying that the referee made a bad call. 73% of fans polled by Stonewall and Forza Football in the UK stated that they would feel comfortable if a player in the England national team came out as gay, a significant percentage to be sure, but no one to be proud of. Put another way, almost 30% of English football fans would be unaccepting of an openly gay player representing their country. In 2014 that is a remarkable and quite shameful statistic.

Much of the problem lies in the fact that homophobic terms have somehow come to be acceptable, defended under the guise of ‘banter’. Fans might label an injured player a ‘faggot’, and defend their behaviour by claiming that they didn’t mean it ‘in that way’ and that they would never call a gay person that. However, in using homophobic pejoratives in this way, fans reinforce stereotypes of gay men as effeminate and in some way worse at, or less interested in sport than straight men. Using such words in that way, teaches other fans that its ok, educates young fans that homophobic language is ok so long as its ‘just banter’. With almost 30% of fans willingly admit to being intolerant of homosexuality and even larger amount of people hurling words such as ‘puff’, ‘mincer’ and ‘fag’ at even apparently straight players on a weekly basis, is it any surprise that there are no publicly ‘out’ players in England’s top four tiers?

In recent seasons, English football’s efforts at combating discrimination have suffered a sizeable setback. High profile incidents such as the accusations of racist behaviour by John Terry, Luis Suarez and most recently former Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay, have reminded the public that organisations such as Kick It Out! still have much work to done.  Racism against black players and fans still occurs, even though punishments are handed down to those caught doing so (albeit arguably far too lax punishments), abuse and taunts against Asians and Jews goes relatively unchecked. Protection for LGBT fans and players is virtually non-existent.

The world’s first openly gay player, and the first black player to command a transfer fee of £1000,000, Justin Fashanu suffered disgusting abuse at the hands of fans, players and even his own manager – iconic gaffer Brian Clough clashed with the player, asking Fashanu “‘why do you keep going to that bloody poofs’ club?’” Fashanu committed suicide in 1998, and whilst the homophobic abuse he suffered was by no means the only cause of his depression, it was certainly a mitigating factor. Just a year after the former Nottingham Forrest player’s death, the taunts that had followed straight England international left-back Graeme Le Saux’s whole career peaked in a clash with Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler. With Le Saux preparing to take a free kick, Fowler repeatedly bent over and pointed his backside at the Chelsea player. Match officials refused to act, even booking Le Saux for refusing to take the free kick.

After the match, both players were punished, Fowler receiving little more than a slap on the wrist for his actions; Fashanu’s death had obviously not served as stark enough warning as to the consequences of homophobic abuse. There simply aren’t severe enough consequences for those who make homophobic remarks. Fowler’s actions hardly impacted his careers or his legacy, the man who Liverpool fans still call ‘God’ got away largely scot free.  Luiz Felipe Scolari has gone on the record stating he would drop any player of his if he found out they were gay, yet despite this reprehensible admission of prejudice and discriminatory selection, Scolari remains a well-respected and in demand manager who has previously been asked to take the England job and most recently led Brazil to World Cup disappointment.

Homophobic chanting at football grounds was only explicitly banned by the FA in 2007, nine years after Fashanu’s tragic suicide. Liam Davis, who plays for Gainsborough Trinity, six tiers below the Premier League has spoken positively of his treatment since coming-out, but admits that there have been rare incidents such as “comments when I was taking a corner”. When sparsely attended lower league matches are still marred by such behaviour, it is easy to imagine how people may act within the anonymity of the huge crowds of the top flight. Davis has also highlighted the disparity in how incidents of racism and homophobia are dealt with, stating that “If it was a black player [being abused] for example it would have been a massive blow up.” This difference in attitudes has been reinforced by FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who when asked about Qatar’s anti-homosexuality laws said “I do not think it is part of racism, perhaps this is going into ethics and morals.”

The Qatari have been awarded the 2022 World Cup but concerns remain about numerous human rights issues. However, Blatter’s comments would seem to imply that his and FIFA’s stance is that sexual freedom is not an absolute human right, even going so far as to flippantly remark that gay fans wanting to attend the 2022 World Cup “should refrain from any sexual activities.” Until the upper echelons of football take a firm stance on gay rights, it is difficult to see how attitudes will ever change, or progress ever be made.

There is now a public debate being had, but the steps being are taken are far too small. Gay fans groups are now being formed, Arsenal once again leading the way with their Gay Gunners, but these groups do not receive enough protection. On Twitter, disgusting comments are regularly left, the culprits largely unpunished, and abuse is still common place at games. Brighton and Hove Albion have regularly complained over the taunts aimed at players and fans by opposition teams over the town’s reputation as the ‘gay capital of Europe’. John Amaechi, the first openly gay NBA player has labelled football as ‘toxic’ for gay people and minorities, and it is hard to disagree with him.

For every player who advocates for gay rights such as Freddie Ljungberg and Anders Lindegaard there is the likes of former Republic of Ireland international Tony Cascarino, who has argued that having a gay player within a side would divide the dressing room: “Players wouldn’t want to be left alone with him, they wouldn’t want to shower with him… The sexual banter would develop an uncomfortable edge… It is an undesirable scenario for a manager, since an uneasy and divided squad is not a recipe for success.” Hitzlsperger has spoken positively of the steps being taken to eliminate homophobia from football, but he has made confirmed that players with the attitude of Cascarino are far too prevalent and that homosexuality is still a taboo subject in the dressing room: “Just picture 20 men sat around a table together drinking – you’ve just got to let the majority be, just as long as the jokes are halfway funny and the talk about homosexuality doesn’t get too insulting”.

Abroad of course attitudes are even worse. Only 52% of American football (soccer) would be accepting of a gay member of the national side, and that figure falls to just 21% in Russia, where upon signing players Hulk and Witsel, Zenit St Petersburg fans published a manifesto against the club fielding black players, but also “the inclusion of representatives of sexual minorities in the Zenit team.” In American Samoa however, there lies a message to be learned. The side are probably most (in)famous for losing 31- 0 to Australia in a World Cup qualifier, but have recently made more positive headlines. Uinifareti Aliva has dramatically improved the side, recruiting a number of new players, including in their number Jaiyah Saelua. A tough tackling defender, Saelua is what is known as Fa’afafine, a third-gender people that form an integral part of traditional Samoan culture. Born male, but with both masculine and feminine gender traits. Saelua dresses like a woman, although it would be a mistake to refer to her as gay, or a drag-queen, the Fa’afafine are recognised as a gender in their own right.

Saelua’s story is an inspirational one, but one that also highlights how far behind so much of the world is; “I was under the impression that in other countries, there are others like me, in 2011 when they told me I was the first [transgender international footballer] in the world, I stepped back. I realised that maybe this world isn’t as cookies and cream as I thought. It’s sad”. Decade old laws in this country leave transgender athletes in limbo, particularly those in transition, unable to play competitive football until two years after they have undergone surgery.

The Rainbow Laces and other similar campaigns have got people talking about homophobia within football, which can only be positive, but until authorities clamp down on abuse and create an environment where gays can feel comfortable coming-out, progress will be marginal. It has been stated by many that for things to change a high profile player will need to open up about their homosexuality, but as former manager Alan Smith points out “You can get drunk and beat up your wife and that’s quite acceptable, but if someone were to say ‘I’m gay’, it’s considered awful. It’s ridiculous Whilst attitudes remain so hostile, it will take a very brave individual to step out.

Why a back three is the future for PSG and Brazil

David Luiz, equally loved and hated throughout the footballing world. When he is busting a gut to get back and make a desperate sliding tackle, hair waving, all passion, it is impossible not to find David Luiz endearing. The fact that he is probably making that charge back into defence because he gave the ball away out of position and high up the pitch is what makes him so frustrating.

In this post for Purely Football, I argue how a back three could well be the way forward for both Brazil and PSG, and the key to getting the best out of the inconsistent David Luiz. Read the full article at the link below:

http://purelyfootball.com/2014/08/04/back-three-future-psg-brazil/

A WEEK IN FOOTBALL – TWO TIER PREMIER LEAGUE THE MOST COMPETITIVE EVER

After a brief sojourn in Poland, AWIF is back and ready to seek its teeth into a new season of Premier League football. Like so many football fans, last Saturday evening, the blog was settling into a sofa, cracking open a beer, excited for the first Match of the Day of the season. The blog is not usually a fan of Alan Shearer’s less than cogent, state-the-obvious style of punditry, but surprisingly, AWIF found itself nodding in agreement with the former Newcastle United hitman. What Shearer suggested was that the Premier League has become a division of two tiers, with seven closely matched sides whom will never be relegated, with a gulf between the other closely matched thirteen teams who must all look over their shoulders.

Read the full article over on Stretty News at the link below:

 

http://strettynews.com/week-football-two-tier-premier-league-competitive-ever/

 

A Week In Football – Despite receiving large fees, Southampton leave Koeman with an impossible rebuilding task

After their remarkable rise through the leagues using a core of young, home-grown talent, Southampton were always going to receive interest in their players. Arguably Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the first of the current crop to leave, signing for Arsenal before the Saints even made their return to England’s top tier. With that sale, Southampton had to make the decision whether to continue to reap the benefits of Oxlade-Chamberlain, or to cash in on their asset. The day was always going to come when the Saints would have to make that same decision with their other young stars. What fans, nor anyone else for that matter, could have anticipated is that Southampton would choose to sell almost all of their assets in a single transfer window.

Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Calum Chambers, Luke Shaw and Dejan Lovren have all now left the club with more possibly to follow, read the rest of my thoughts on this extraordinary exodus over at Stretty News:

http://strettynews.com/week-football-despite-receiving-large-fees-southampton-leave-koeman-impossible-rebuilding-task/

From Buenos Aires to Rome and back via Birmingham – Mauro Zarate

Fans of the Premier League, cast your minds back to April 12th, 2008. It was the day that Mauro Zárate truly caught the attention of English fans, following up goals in March against Reading and Manchester City, with a sumptuous free kick to equalise late on against Everton for relegation threatened Birmingham. Zárate’s brief cameo in England’s second city was just one of several unusual stops in what has been an intriguing, frustrating and often perplexing career. 

The maverick Argentine is returning to the Premier League with a move to West Ham United, learn more about the new Hammer in my first article for inbedwithmaradona at the link below:

http://inbedwithmaradona.com/journal/2014/5/3/buenos-aires-rome-and-birmingham

World Cup Wild Cards

There have been enough column inches devoted to the likes of Neymar, Messi and Christiano Ronaldo, so for Four Four Tweet, I have compiled a list of wild cards, players that are not necessarily in the spotlight playing for the world’s top clubs, but whom could nevertheless prove crucial for their nation’s World Cup hopes and propel their own careers forward. A summer transfer looks likely for everyone on this list and how these individuals perform in Brazil could just dictate how high they climb and what fee they demand.

Read the full article at the link below:

http://fourfourtweet.co.uk/potential-world-cup-breakout-stars/

A WEEK IN FOOTBALL – MOURINHO’S MIND GAMES FINALLY PAYOFF FOR CHELSEA

José Mourinho’s whole career has been marked by mind games. His press conferences have become an event in themselves and have largely been successful. From the moment Mourinho introduced himself to England by declaring himself “the Special One”, the former Porto boss has shown a near unparalleled aptitude to use the media to his advantage. Able to go toe to toe with the likes of Wenger, Benitez and even the master of the art Sir Alex Ferguson, Mourinho has frequently used mind games to get in the heads of his opponents and gain a competitive edge.

This season though Mourinho hasn’t had things his way, often his jibes haven’t quite had the desired effects. Criticism of Manchester City’s spending was met largely with bemusement, very much a case of the pot calling the kettle black. As was Mourinho’s attempts to paint Chelsea as underdogs even as they led the league, if it was meant to heap pressure upon Liverpool and Manchester City, this ploy missed the mark somewhat. Liverpool and City remained largely consistent, if anything the constant writing off of his own side’s chances seemed to play on the Chelsea players’ minds, leading to such slip ups as the disastrous loss to Sunderland last week.

This weekend though in the huge title race encounter with Liverpool, Mourinho not only got his tactics spot on, but also his pre-match theatrics. In my weekly column for Stretty News, I take a closer look at where this crucial fixture was lost and won and what lessons Brendan Rodgers can learn from his former mentor turned rival.

Read the full article at the link below:

http://strettynews.com/a-week-in-football-mourinhos-mind-games-finally-payoff-for-chelsea/

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