In the week of John Terry’s court case, racism is again coming to the forefront of football. In the last couple of years, we have had the rearing of many discriminations in football, leading to the question of if they were actually ever dying down at all, or simply flying under the radar. One of the biggest issues of all yet one that is rarely ever talked about and could be accused of being the last taboo in football was subject of a documentary recently – homosexuality in football.
In most cases I tend to shy away from using statistics to illustrate a point, yet there are a couple in this case that simply have to be recognised and discussed. One in every ten people are gay – and there are 5000 professional footballers in England, yet how many can you name as being openly gay? A rather disturbing and disappointing zero – does this mean there are no gay footballers in England?
Of course not – prominent PR guru Max Clifford stated he knows and has advised at least half a dozen premier league footballers not to ‘come out’ through fear of recrimination and effectively killing their career. It is at this point most people would think back to the only gay footballer in England to come out, and the subject of the BBC 3 documentary last night – Justin Fashanu – who eventually committed suicide after being spurned by even his own family. Why would someone come out, even now, decades later, when such abuse could still be levelled at someone?
Footballers, people often forget are human just like the rest of society, and have the same worries and concerns about being accepted – both by the general public and by their teammates, and of course this will affect their decision to hide their homosexuality and stop the potential of both abuse and rejection.
World cup winning coach Scolari was quoted during the 2002 world cup saying that should a player come out as gay to him, he would throw them out of the team. A disgraceful and not to mention highly discriminatory statement which of course is highly unacceptable to say the very least, but can go a long way to explaining the concerns and hesitation of gay footballers when deciding to effectively live a lie.
The reaction of teammates is also something that is cited as being a huge concern for footballers when choosing not to come out – yet during the BBC 3 programme, both Millwall players and high profile QPR captain Joey Barton stated that it would not be a problem, and yes there would be banter, but there is in every walk of life and it could well make the player feel more included and accepted by the dressing room as oppose to the issue being suspected and skirted around.
The only openly gay footballer can be found in the fourth tier of Swedish football – Anton Hysen – who states that he has found teammates to be accepting and has effectively carried on as normal, yet it is not unfair to say that the lifestyle and attitude in Sweden is much more liberal than in the UK, and it is a sorry yet true state of affairs that players are open to receiving abuse from fellow teammates – or at the very least running the risk of feeling out the loop in the dressing room.
Of course, crowds and players can be blamed until the sun comes down for the hesitance of players when coming out, yet there is far more to it than that – footballers not only make huge amounts of money from their talent but also from their endorsement rights – and as Clifford rightly pointed out this could end up being severely affected by the coming out of a player; another consideration that would weigh heavily on their mind.
Alternatively, this could work the other way, players such as Beckham and Ljungberg who have been questioned over their metro sexuality and in Ljungberg’s case sexuality have become gay icons and have very lucrative contracts due to this – the first player to come out could benefit a huge deal from this possibility.
Aside from this, the fact remains that the governing bodies are simply not doing enough to show that homosexuality should be accepted as a normality in the game – the PFA sending out posters and a DVD to all 92 clubs is simply not good enough by any stretch of the imagination. As the head of the Gay footballers support network ,Chris Basiurski stated; nowhere near enough is being done, and there is little sign governing bodies are willing to change this.
Big steps need to be taken to raise awareness of this issue in the game – yet what chance do the PFA have when FIFA have allowed the 2022 World Cup the biggest footballing event of all to be held in Qatar (where homosexuality is banned) and Sepp Blatter stated that gay people should ‘refrain from sexual activity’ whilst there for the World Cup.
Joey Barton stated that ‘without a doubt in the next ten years there will be an openly gay footballer’ in the top sections of football, yet I wonder what they will think of the location of the 2022 World Cup, and the fact homosexuality is illegal there? Not to mention what gay fans must think. Yet another huge deterrent for a gay footballer to come out, and with archaic people like Blatter leading the top bodies in football, is it any wonder?