Kick It Out discussion forum acknowledges homophobia as a continuing problem
As part of February’s celebration of the gay and lesbian community’s participation in sport, the anti-discrimination organisation Kick It Out hosted a discussion forum last Thursday, the 24th of February, in Manchester. Attended by panelists and footballers Andy Hinchcliffe, Michael Bennett and Earl Barrett, among others, the forum provided an opportunity to focus some much-needed attention on the climate of overt and systemic homophobia that continues to stain the sport of football.
A former England international, Barrett is today a Kick It Out representative, and spoke about the need for the anti-discrimination campaign to begin addressing issues of homophobia. “During my playing days, challenging discrimination was mainly focused around racism,” he said. “Nowadays, narrow-mindedness still exists on the terraces, in the boardroom and in the studio, and homophobia is a problem the game is slowly getting to grips with.”
Barrett’s comments are of particular importance given that homophobia is making its mark all over the game, not merely in the stands. What is required is a deeper look at the core of the football community – what happens behind the scenes, in the locker rooms, as well as on the pitch – which remains so far behind in terms of its acceptance of homosexuality. As Barrett points out, “There are no openly gay players, homophobia chanting exists, and so we need to dig deeper to examine why professional football remains unwelcoming to this community.”
The Kick It Out forum provided a much-needed opportunity to answer urgent questions about why football remains dominated by heteronormative attitudes and what can be done to initiate a shift in these patterns. Why, after learning that rugby player Gareth Thomas and, more recently, cricketer Steven Davies have come out as gay, are we unquestioning of the fact that nobody in modern football has done the same? Where is the support from within the community – the teams, the clubs, the football associations – for gay players.
Recent calls from the likes of German footballers Mario Gomez and Manuel Neuer for gay footballers to come out of the closet, though undoubtedly encouraging and open-minded, can appear naïve and ill-informed in an arena where heterosexuality is perceived and expected to be the norm. The forum in Manchester last week, by contrast, represents an important step toward identifying the underlying prejudices in football and the barriers to creating an atmosphere in which gay players can be genuinely accepted.
Only once we recognise the homophobia inherent in football can we begin to address it, and only once we address it will football become a discrimination-free sport. We at Red Card Homophobia hope that the long-standing tradition of brushing these issues of fundamental rights under the turf is beginning to be broken, and that the work of Barrett and company will inspire other members of the footballing community to raise their voices and ask questions that matter.