What's to be done about homophobia in football?
Nearly three quarters of British football fans have heard homophobic abuse at a match during the last five years, according to research from the UK's leading lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality charity Stonewall.
The online study, which was carried out by ICM, was commissioned by Stonewall as part of its 'Rainbow Laces' campaign to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic attitudes in sport.
The research found several encouraging trends but also revealed that 18 to 24-year-olds are twice as likely as the overall group to say they would be embarrassed if their favourite player came out as gay (22 per cent compared to 12 per cent) and twice as likely to describe anti-LGBT language as "banter".
According to The Guardian, immediate and tough sanctions – including one- and two-year bans – should be imposed on football supporters who engage in homophobic abuse, a report by the parliamentary select committee for culture, media and sport has recommended.
Following a short inquiry held last year, the report cites a range of surveys and research demonstrating homophobia is a major problem in school, youth and professional sports and recommends a zero-tolerance approach combined with better training and education for staff at all levels.
“It is clear to us that the casual use of homophobic epithets and terms has a wide-ranging and damaging effect and we consider it disappointing that a significant percentage of people consider anti-LGB language to be harmless,” the report says. “It should be treated in the same way as other offensive language, whether racist, sexist or denigrating any other group.”
However, according to The Telegraph in December, three players within English football were considering coming out publicly, but the Football Association denied being in talks with the individuals concerned.
An MP had suggested the stars were considering revealing their sexuality while he quizzed the sports minister as part of a parliamentary inquiry into homophobia in sport.
John Nicolson, the former BBC journalist who is now a member of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee, told Tracey Crouch: “I understand that there are three players in talks with the FA about coming out and they haven’t done so yet.”
However, Nicolson’s assertion was disputed by the FA, with a spokesman adding in a statement: “We have been and are working hard so that if a player felt they wanted to have the conversation about coming out, we would be there and offer any and all the support we could.”
Chairman of the FA, Greg Clarke, told the committee in October that an openly gay player would suffer “significant abuse”. But Crouch disputed his claims saying there was never a better time than now for players to come out.