It is perhaps unquestionable that homophobia in this modern era is still a major issue in sport- especially in football.
Many footballing bodies make what could be described as ‘half-hearted’ campaigns to tackle the issue, many players still fear to come out and echoes of homophobic chants can still be heard around many grounds. The big question that arises then, is why? We claim to live in a modern generation, where everyone is accepted regardless. So why does the sporting world still seem to be trapped in the mentality of previous generations? This suggests then that such a topic is a complicated issue, and hopefully this article will shine some light as to why.
The recent rainbow laces campaign -backed by the bookmaker’s Paddy Power- in football last year aimed to show support for gay players, by all professional and amateur players alike wearing a pair of rainbow laces. The campaign achieved good success with a majority of top-flight clubs and players supporting the cause, with the campaign also receiving huge support on twitter. Yet despite this reasonable success, many within and outside of football have criticised the campaign. The most recurring issue being that although overall the message of the campaign is good, it lacks consistency and some of the slogans used by the campaign could be interpreted as homophobic too. For example, Football v Homophobia (FvH), a body aiming to improve education on the subject and who rejected the chance to work on this initiative, said slogans used such as ‘Right Behind Gay Footballers’ that were used in the campaign, reinforced “stereotypes that ensure homophobia exists” and “blurred the territory” between homophobic language and football banter. FvH said a number of people had already written innuendo-laden phrases on bookmaker Paddy Power’s Facebook page. The organisation went on to state that “It is incongruous to run a campaign aiming to change football culture whilst using language which reinforces the very stereotypes and caricatures that, in the long term, ensure that homophobia persists.”
In addition to this lack of consistency and arguable sincerity behind the campaign, it can be questioned as to whether such a campaign is truly big enough to deal the issue and indeed whether it was more of a token gesture by the FA rather than a true commitment to tackling the problem: Laces are hardly the most visible item of clothing that a footballer wears when playing, and for those watching the games either at the grounds or on TV the laces would be barely visible. With regards to the FA, the perhaps limited nature of the campaign does not mean that the FA is homophobic, but perhaps they could do more to visibly advocate this issue in football. However, it could be difficult for the FA to do much in dealing with the root of the problem, which is arguably the fans themselves and the language they use. Sure, they can stop those who make homophobic chants from entering the ground, but they cannot change the people themselves. That would require the FA to change the behaviours of people, something they are unfortunately not able to do.
There can be no doubt that homophobia is an issue which is still rife in sport, particularly in the footballing world. There have been a number of campaigns and frameworks introduced in footballing bodies around the world which have attempted to tackle and raise support for the issue, however, the effect to which these campaigns have is not really quantifiable. Ultimately, the root of the problem lies not with the sporting associations or professional athletes, but with the fans, which has perhaps been amplified by the development of lad culture. There is a fine line between banter and abuse, and unfortunately a significant majority of fans see no clear difference between the two terms.