Some of the reaction from knuckle-dragging football supporters to the Premier League’s incredibly weak support of the 'Rainbow Laces' campaign over the weekend, goes to demonstrate exactly why so much more needs to be done within the game to drive out the prejudices that hang over it like a dark cloud.
The campaign, organised by LGBT equality charity Stonewall UK, began last Friday and ran across a number of other sports; the British Olympic Association, British Cycling, England Rugby, Football Association, Premiership Rugby, Scottish Professional and Welsh Rugby.
Being the biggest draw in sport, not only in the UK but worldwide, the Premier League has a massive opportunity to support this campaign every year and to spread a message of equality and acceptance for every LGBT football player and supporter around the world. Yet again this year, they failed.
As the action played out across the weekend, we saw the colours of the rainbow flag, the universal symbol of the LGBT community, appear everywhere from badges worn by managers and television pundits to corner flags to captain’s armbands and club social media crests.
A message flashed across the electronic advertising hoardings hugging the pitches at all of the grounds; ‘Rainbow Laces...This is everyone’s game...This is Premier League’.
If there was anyone watching on TV that was unaware of what those colours symbolised or if a football-loving being from another planet was beamed down to a seat in stadium and saw that message flash up, they would not have a clue what it was about.
Doing a quick search through the tweets from all of the top-flight clubs ahead of the weekend action and all you will find are messages like;
“As part of our ongoing commitment to equality and diversity, Chelsea are supporting Stonewall’s #RainbowLaces campaign this weekend.”
“We believe Arsenal is for everyone - and that's why we're proud to be supporting @stonewalluk’s #RainbowLaces campaign.”
Manchester City tweeted; “We’re proud to support @stonewalluk’s #RainbowLaces campaign. Make sport everyone’s game.”
It's infuriating to see the reluctance of the Premier League and its clubs in putting out a message of zero-tolerance for homophobia or one of acceptance for those in the LGBT community.
How about something like; ‘Let’s tackle homophobia’ or ‘Football and LGBT United’? Those types of slogans might give parents at a match an opportunity to explain to curious children what ‘homophobia’ or ‘LGBT’ means and thus, the next generation of supporters gain a more enlightened view of what true equality actually means.
After the full-time whistle blew around the grounds on Saturday evening, out of curiosity I decided to search ‘rainbow laces’ on Twitter (granted, not always a platform of sensible and measured opinions) to see what the general feeling was and my heart sank reading some of the replies to the post on the official Premier League account.
“Will have a trans lace next, then a bi lace. The worlds going mad. Everyone's becoming a pioneer for minority groups and it's just a bit boring now that's why there's no need.”
“It’s definitely harming our youth and their ways of perceiving sexuality, thinking that same sex intercourse is ok.”
“why you don't have a weekend for straight people? Why gays are more important?”
“Why should they get special treatment. Totally disagree with this.”
“If what gay's do was right or good why are they hiding? If they are not ashamed of their irresponsible selves... Why no one has come out from the EPL yet despite ur promotions?”
There was a lot of responses in support of the campaign but the above comments are evidence of the fact that there are still a lot of people who attend games every weekend that still hold homophobic views. And while idiotic, the last comment hits on the much talked about elephant in the room with regard to football and homosexuality; the reluctance of any footballer to come out while still playing the game.
It will be fantastic to finally reach a point where we live in a society in which coming out is no longer a thing and that a person’s sexuality does not matter anymore but it is sad to think that there are so many footballers playing the game right now who do not feel they can live public lives as gay men.
A couple of players interviewed on ‘Britain’s Gay Footballers’ – a 2012 BBC3 documentary - revealed that they had team-mates who are gay but are not out. The issue for gay players would not seem to lie in the dressing room, although that can’t be said with 100% certainty, but up in the stands.
I have had two friends come out to me and our other pals and it can be a dreadfully tough experience for any person to go through, never mind a high-profile football player who has to play in front of thirty or forty-thousand people every week. So it is imperative that those in charge of running the sport lay the foundations to give support to any player that wants to come out.
Ryan Atkin is the first professional football referee to speak openly about being gay and his comments in the build up to this year’s campaign hit the nail on the head.
“You don’t have to be LGBT to be a supporter of the campaign. In fact, allies within the sport are more crucial than ever. I hope this campaign sees more sport stars, staff and fans publicly support LGBT people and that they make clear that homophobia and abusive comments are not acceptable. However, wearing rainbow laces for a game is not enough.”