LGBT and Sport: A Story of Two Halves.
I really look forward to the day when words like, brave, shocked or courageous are no longer used when sportsperson tells the public that their sexuality isn’t heterosexual. Having watched the Channel Four programme, Britain’s Gay footballers (a misleading title as apparently there aren’t any) saw Amal Fashanu, niece of Justin Fashanu, go out on the field to find out why there hasn’t been any ‘out’ gay footballer’s before or after her uncle.
Over the last twenty years this same question has been asked time and time again, with the same reason being reeled out that it is either fear of the fans chanting homophobic abuse, or that it is the footballer’s managers keeping the idea alive that an ‘out’ gay footballer would be less bankable. Of course this belief is only kept true while premier league footballers are discouraged from ‘coming out’; and as for the chanting? Well to a degree that is part and parcel of the game, something Amal witnessed when she went to a home game at Brighton football stadium. Here the chants were more tongue in cheek, with the Brighton football team hearing cries of “We can see you holding hands” and “Does your boyfriend know you’re out”. Neither of these battle cries were directed at a particular football player, and in reality, not homophobic. However, when Sol Campbell (a heterosexual footballer) defected from Tottenham to their bitter rivals, Arsenal United back in 2001, he found himself the target of an extremely vile chant from the Tottenham supporters: “Sol, Sol, wherever you may be, you’re on the verge of lunacy and we won’t give a fuck when you’re hanging from a tree, you Judas c**t with HIV. Campbell rightfully complained and said if this was shouted out on the street then that group would be arrested. At first the police said it would be impossible to make any arrests due to the vast number of the crowd, however, video footage was later used with several Tottenham fans receiving a fine and a three-year ban from all matches. With arrests now being made against fans who chant homophobic abuse from the terreaces, along with Premier footballers being slapped with huge fines for sending homophobic tweets, we can at last see gay hate within football being taken seriously.
Of course, chanting is all part of the game, it’s what makes football special, but there is no room for racial or homophobic abuse in sport in the Twenty-first Century. There has been a drive to bring up the issue of homophobia in football with Red Card Homophobia in a similar way that the Kick it Out campaign tackles racism in football, but no high-profile (straight) football player has been willing to back the Red Card Homophobia campaign for fear of being thought of as gay. Although the PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association) are taking some notice of tackling Homophobia in football with a new poster campaign, but they seem to still be dragging their feet saying it will take many years for all those involved in football to change their views on there being an out footballer playing for a premier league.
This idea that all those involved in premiership football can keep saying the time isn’t right, maybe in five, ten fifteen years time we will see an ‘out’ footballer player is just allowing homophobia to continue to thrive. The majority of other sports people who have decided to stop hiding their sexuality and have ‘come out’ have said it’s the best thing they have ever done, simply because they can be themselves. Let’s hope that we don’t have to wait another twenty years for a footballer to come out. Who knows, a forward thinking manager may take the reins soon and see that a promising gay footballer player can be out and proud about his sexuality and when he does his sexuality will be secondary to his ability to play a great game of football.
February 2012 is LGBT history month and to coincide with the upcoming Olympics for the second year running the focus is on sport. With only another 161 days to go, the world will be focused on London and the opening event. Even those who hardly give sports the time of day will surely have a sense of pride as we all come together and root for our UK sports men and women to gain as many gold medals as possible.
Of course there will be many LGBT people, myself included, who will be reminded that sometimes sport can make us feel excluded. I can still remember standing in the freezing rain on the school sport field, knowing that I will be last to be picked for the football team. A humiliation made all the worse as I watch Adrian Scarf being picked before me, even though he had chronic asthma and no sense of direction. But then I discovered I was rather good at other sports like hurdles, relay, discus and javelin. By achieving in these areas I was able to dismiss the idea that I didn’t like sports, I just didn’t like being singled out as being rubbish at contact sports.
Admittedly, when I left school and discovered the gay pubs and clubs I left all interest of sports behind me and would only mention the Adrian Scarf story, dismissing sports altogether, (let’s face it, a camp story will usually overide a converstaion about school sports!). I’m sure many other LGBT people have told simular tales, which have helped feed into the myth that LGBT people have little or no interest in sport. However, over the last couple of decades this view has been challenged in a variety of ways. Back in 1982, San Francisco saw the start of the now hugely successful Gay Games, while here in the UK there are now gay rugby teams including , the Kings Cross Steelers, Bristol Bisons RFC football teams, London Romans Football Club, London Lesbian Kickabout and trans swimming group, Marlin Swimming Group and more locally the LGBT sports organisation, BLAGS, showing that there is a thriving LGBT sports community. Another important element in changing the perception that sport and LGBT people don’t mix is having high-profile sports men and women publicly ‘coming out’.
Away from the football stadium, it would seem that such rampant homophobia is not as prevalent in other sports, there are at least one LGBT sportsperson who is openly gay in their chosen sport. In the UK the most recognisable out sportspeople to recently come out include, International Rugby Referee, Nigel Owens, BBC sports presenter, journalist and jockey, Clare Balding, Welsh Rugby player Gareth Thomas, Power-lifter Chris Morgan and England’s cricket wicket keeper, Steven Davies. Premier footballers should take note; Rugby didn’t fall into disrepute, Cricket wasn’t swallowed into a pit of despair and most importantly, sports fans continue to love, praise and support their chosen game and sportsperson regardless of the players sexuality.
It may take a very long time for some people in sport and supporters, particularly football, to pull their knuckles off the floor, and raise their eyes to the light and see we are no longer living in the dark ages and that there are some fantastic sports people out there who just happen to kick, throw, lift, dive or even bat for the other team.