2 Mar 2011 08:30:00
JUSTIN CAMPAIGN LOGO
By Alan Duffy
Director of communications for The Justin Campaign
Football may be the nation’s, indeed the world’s, most popular game, a “people’s” game which transcends class, colour and creed. But when it comes to providing an apparently supportive environment for its stars to come out as gay, it is unquestionably lagging behind many of the major sports.
Surrey wicketkeeper Steven Davies’ public declaration of his homosexuality, following in the brave footsteps of rugby’s Gareth Thomas and cycling’s Graeme Obree, has produced a massive amount of positive media coverage already, while the cricketing authorities themselves, hardly renowned for being bastions of progressive thinking, have very publicly given their support to the England man.
While the real test of cricket’s apparently liberal thinking will come when the media circus leaves town and Davies gets back on the cricket pitch, the initial positive and mature response should be applauded.
So where does that leave football? Well it’s probably fair to say that, for the moment anyway, cricket and rugby and indeed cycling have rather left football in the shade.
The Davies story now has everyone asking: when will a professional footballer come out and publicly state their homosexuality or bisexuality?
It is clear that there are indeed a number of gay top class footballers out there, but as of yet, Justin Fashanu remains the one and only professional footballer to come out of the closet.
Britain’s first million-pound black player and scorer of that famous ‘Match of the Day’ goal of the season for Norwich City against Liverpool, Fashanu’s career never went on to reach the heights it should have, with his sexuality and the reaction to it no doubt playing a major part in his very sad downfall.
His public declaration of his sexuality in 1990 and his death in 1998 could and should have been moments when football started to confront the issue of homophobia in the game, but nothing happened.
Lone struggle | Justin Fashanu remains the only pro footballer to have come out
This radio silence on the issue has only recently been replaced by some barely audible mutterings from the footballing establishment, but with the FA now officially endorsing and supporting The Justin Campaign (named after Mr Fashanu) along with its Football v Homophobia initiative and Uefa even issuing a statement of support for The Justin Campaign, these plodding dinosaurs of the great game are finally starting to pick up the pace and take notice.
“The debacle of Qatar being awarded the 2022 World Cup and Sepp Blatter’s appalling comments have helped to highlight the issue of homosexuality in football“
The debacle of Qatar being awarded the 2022 World Cup along with Sepp Blatter’s subsequent appalling comments have also, ironically, helped to highlight the issue, while a number of players have also started to speak up. Indeed, with the likes of Darren Purse and Curtis Davies both speaking positively and intelligently on the issue of homosexuality and football in recent months, there is an undeniable momentum now. However, before those tentative steps quicken to a full-blown revolution, much work remains to be done.
Football, despite its wealth and media savvy, remains inextricably linked to a traditional idea of machismo. And linked to this is the dreaded “banter”, an over-used excuse for inherently bigoted views to be shouted from the terraces and spewed out on chat-rooms and phone-in radio shows.
The stewarding of racist chanting in football grounds has been soberly successful, but when it comes to homophobia, despite making all the right noises, clubs and their officials all too often turn a deaf ear.
So while the great and the good of the game we love need to keep turning that lip service into concrete action, we, the fans of the game, can also help pave the way for a footballer to simply be himself.
Maybe the question we should avoid asking is when exactly will another footballer come out. It may be tomorrow, it may be in two years’ time. But rather than focus on the possibility of a player coming out, we need to make sure that football continues its evolution from ignorance to tolerance.
For more information on The Justin Campaign, go to www.thejustincampaign.com
For more information on Football v Homophobia go to www.footballvhomophobia.com
You can also follow the campaign on Twitter on @justincampaign
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Football stars will come out as gay once the game becomes more tolerant