U.K. Soccer Stars Shy Away from Pro-Gay Ad
Tatchell: Anti-Homophobia Group's Reorg Unsatisfactory
"The FA has now reconstituted the Working Group with a hand-picked, much smaller and less representative number of members," Tatchell continued. "It no longer includes all interested stakeholders. Many relevant lesbian and gay groups are not included. This does not inspire confidence. Even now, the FA will not explain why the old Working Croup was disbanded. Nor has it made public who is on the new Working Group."
Tatchell went on to argue the importance of well-run initiatives to counter homophobia in the realm of athletics. "Sport is one the last great bastions of homophobia, and football is one of the least gay-friendly of all sports," he claimed. "Among other future initiatives, I would like to see FA securing the agreement of all clubs to feature anti-homophobia messages in their match programs, on tickets and on billboards inside and outside football grounds. Why not? Why the reluctance?
"True, not all footie fans, officials and players are homophobic. Most are not. But there is a homophobic hard-core. They need to be challenged, to rid the beautiful game of the ugliness of prejudice. Not next year. Now."
Even in the breach, the video has sparked debate about anti-gay slurs and homophobic attitudes among soccer fans and among the athletes themselves. SoccerAmericaDaily reported in a Feb. 12 article that U.K. newspaper The Guardian carried an op-ed by Patrick Barkham declaring that, "While English football's administrators dither, homophobia endures in the modern game. The stadiums may be plusher than ever but they still reverberate to offensive anti-gay chants, and homophobic 'banter' is widespread in dressing rooms."
SoccerAmericaDaily noted that there are 4,000 pro soccer players currently active in England and Wales, but that none of them have come out of the closet. Even if conservatives' estimates that gays constitute only about 1% of the general population is true--and that claim is disputed--at least 40 pro players should, by that reckoning, be gay. But the only gay soccer pros that have publicly disclosed their sexuality have done so after retiring from the game--a trend that reflects how American athletes, whether in football, baseball, or basketball, approach the issue.
One exception is Cardiff Blues rugby player Gareth Thomas, who came out as gay late last year, setting off a media frenzy. In the midst of the shockwaves that Thomas' coming out generated, British publicist Max Clifford said that U.K. sports has plenty of homosexuals on the pitch, but that fans are still not ready to accept that pro athletes can also be gay. Clifford said that he had advised two gay athletes to stay in the closet because coming out would be harmful to their careers.
Clifford's view would seem to be the received wisdom: the delayed video ended up following an everyman, but was initially meant to feature pro soccer stars stepping up to the camera to denounced homophobia. The problem was that none of the athletes wanted to be involved with a "gay video," and so the project was re-imagined, according to a Feb. 12 ESPN article.
The chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, Gordon Taylor, stuck up for the Association's membership, saying, "Everybody assumes footballers are full of confidence, but it is not easy on issues like this. Remember there was a time when even black players did not feel they could talk about race." Taylor also addressed the issue at the PFA Web site, writing, "The PFA are proud of our work in the field of anti-racism demonstrating that in football we are all united regardless of race, color or creed." Added Taylor, "The English game is a beacon of diversity with players from many backgrounds, countries and continents demonstrating their skills on the field of play. It is unacceptable for them to be subjected to abusive chanting be it racist or homophobic whilst they play.
"It is vital that we continue to work towards eradicating all forms of discrimination including homophobia. I applaud the ongoing work in this area.''
GiveMeFootball.com reported in a Feb 12 article that there was another, equally important facet to the story, according to Taylor: "Contrary to newspaper reports, no player has refused to be part of the anti-homophobia DVD because NO player was asked." Added Taylor, "This initiative was instigated by the players' organization on behalf of its members and, as such, our support of this campaign is generic."