The big issue in English football?
By Rob Casey
Thursday 22 Oct 2009 22:02:00
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This weekend sees the zenith of the Kick It Out campaign, which brands itself as ‘Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football’ and promotes itself as ‘football’s equality and inclusion campaign’. An excellent cause, the success of English football is in many ways dependent on the success of movements such as this. However, by focusing on racism within the sport, are the equality campaigners overlooking another issue that still plagues the beautiful game and prevents our great sport from moving further forward?

According to their website, “Kick It Out works throughout the football, educational and community sectors to challenge discrimination, encourage inclusive practices and work for positive change.

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“The campaign is supported and funded by the game's governing bodies, including founding body the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), the Premier League and The Football Association.”

Prior to writing this article today, I personally took part in the campaign and am proud of the work that is done to rid football of the racism that is sadly still a part of our game, albeit far less than it once was. It is a subject that I am very passionate about, however I feel that there is an issue that needs to be addressed with the same focus and attention, but is not.

This summer, the gay rights group Stonewall conducted a survey of over 2,000 fans and concluded that English football is “institutionally homophobic”, claiming that 70% of fans had heard anti-gay abuse in grounds in the past five years, and half of fans felt that not enough was being done about it. Well, I would challenge anyone who has been to games regularly in the last year to tell me that they have not heard one homophobic comment or chant shouted from the terraces. Sadly, it is one form of abuse that is widespread, and no-one seems to mind.

Racism is not absent amongst all supporters, however racist chants are now thankfully a rarity, and we are well motivated to report it when we hear it. Homophobia though, is still apparently accepted as part and parcel of the game.

According to the BBC, Stonewall’s survey found that “most fans did want to see an end to homophobia in the sport, with 64% saying football would be better off without anti-gay abuse and more than two-thirds saying they would feel comfortable if a player on their team came out.”

Currently there are no known footballers who have publicly admitted to being anything other than heterosexual, even though the survey also found that “just 2% believed there were no gay professional players,” and certain players are regular victims of abuse due to their supposed sexuality.

Chris Basiurski is the chair of the Gay Football Supporters Network, and has said that “Our own experiences show that many in the football world are in denial over the problem and have been unwilling to help us in our campaigns.” Both he and Stonewall argue that the Kick It Out campaign needs to widen its efforts in order to tackle this situation.

In many ways, English football leads the way in Europe in terms of combating racism and general hooliganism. Uefa has a reputation for being soft on racists and it is right that in this country we should continue to strive for equality and promote our values in the international arena, especially as so many of our national heroes are role models for an ethnically diverse culture.

Efforts to improve participation and support, especially from Asian players and fans, are much needed in our game, and I would personally like to see the Kick It Out campaign supported more rigorously up and down the country.

Additionally though, isn’t it time that we addressed the issue of homophobia? If football in this country is truly to develop, then the game needs to keep up with the general attitudes of those who support it, and the vast majority of us are sufficiently open-minded on issues of sexuality to be confused by how little seems to be done about it at the moment.

So what can we do to tackle this issue?


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