I’m ashamed. I’m ashamed because as much as I love football, homophobic attitudes within the game go unchecked, with authorities unconscionably reluctant to intervene. Sepp Blatter’s comment that gay fans travelling to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup “should refrain from any sexual activities” typifies how out of touch FIFA is, but the problems go deeper. Brighton and Hove Albion supporters are routinely abused by other fans because of their city’s large LGBT population, and the FA hasn’t moved a muscle to stop it.
This shouldn’t be an issue. Homophobia in football should be a thing of the past, an outdated belief system which football as a whole rejected long ago in favour of universal equality. After all, viewing players in terms of their sexuality is as irrelevant as judging them according to their hair colour or favourite sandwich.
However, despite our current residence in the 21st century, the world’s favourite sport still suffers from a general culture of intolerance and denial. The collective silence which haunts football, with Swedish third division player Anton Hysén the only openly out footballer in a professional league, means that introspection is long overdue.
United States international Robbie Rogers recently came out as he stepped away from the sport at the youthful age of 25. In an interview with The Guardian, Rogers said he felt that “in football it’s obviously impossible to come out – because no-one has done it.” The former Leeds United midfielder put this fact largely down to the general culture surrounding football, stating that he “was just fearful. I was very fearful how my team-mates were going to react.”
Footballers young and old need a role model – someone to prove that it’s possible to make it in the notoriously macho world of professional football, whatever your sexuality. However, the pressure and abuse they would undoubtedly receive make it such an unattractive prospect that players instead choose to put on a façade, as Rogers attests: “We’re such great actors because we’re afraid to let people know who we are.”
The FA has taken steps with its Football v Homophobia campaign, but more must be done to address one of the most important problems affecting football in the modern age. We live in a world which will shortly welcome goal-line technology, but cannot create an environment where gay players can feel equally welcome. It should not hard to see which is more overdue.
Pioneers like Jason Collins in the NBA and former Wales rugby international Gareth Thomas have blazed a trail for sportsmen everywhere, but the pressure should not be on individuals. Ridiculously for a sport watched by billions, creating a fully inclusive community doesn’t seem to be high up on the authorities’ agenda. It’s time for that to change. From a grassroots level all the way up to FIFA, it must be understood that everyone has a place in football.