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Homophobia in Sport: The Dark Truth

By Luke Brown

• Interview with netball player and Sheppey United footballer who are both openly gay.
• Why are there more openly gay women than men in Sport?
• The struggles men face in coming out.
• Reasons why people do not come out. Comments from Boris Johnson/ Robbie Fowler/ Head of the FA.
Written by Luke Brown
(Video Link)

With anthems like Liverpool’s famous ‘You’ll never walk alone’ football fans like to believe that their sport is a game to be supported and played by everyone and anyone with no exclusions.

This is simply not the case.

But, considering the leader of our country referred to gay men as ‘tank-topped bumboys’ and stated that Muslim women look like ‘letterboxes, who is surprised? In fact, incidents of Islamophobia rose by 375% the week after the current prime minister made these comments.

Even those at the top of football, a sport that claims to be progressive, have made similar comments. Ex-chairman of the FA Gregg Clarke has stated that a gay footballer’s decision on whether to come out was a ‘life choice’.

Yet there is still much confusion as to why there is a lack of footballers who are openly part of the LGBTQ community. According to a statistic taken in 2019, 3% of the population is part of the LGBTQ community. Therefore, considering the number of footballers in the UK, there should be more players who have come out.

There were 527 players registered in England's top division, the Premier League, at the start of the 21/22 season, with every club having around 25 players signed up. Theoretically, if 3% of the population identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community, then 3% of 527 players is around 15. Not even one of those 527 footballers has come out and it's the same story throughout the English leagues. Then again there has only been one openly gay male professional player in British history.

The issues of racism and sexism have, like homophobia, been prevalent in recent years. This has been seen with the rise of the BLM movement and players taking the knee in protest.

Ever since Euro 2020, it has felt as though there has been a massive change, for the better, in dealing with racism. Adverts and awareness have been spread by platforms like Sky Sports about the increase in online abuse faced by players of colour. There is also more racial diversity and an increased number of women engaged in the top leagues in the UK through punditry and media.

However, despite this progress, homophobia is often seen as the forgotten hatred in Football. For lots of the people who are part of the LGBTQ community, this comes as no surprise. What do you expect considering the Prime Ministers and head of the FA’s derogatory remarks about being gay? What sort of example is that for the upcoming generation?

The worrying statistics continue when it comes to homophobia in football. At least 186 LGBTQ athletes were at the Olympics in Tokyo, a stat that was not thrown all over social media. Maybe this is because, in sports other than football, this is just the norm. Even Canadian swimmer Markus Thormeyer stated that “competing at the Olympics as an openly gay athlete is amazing” a quote that you will never hear a Premier League footballer say about their sport.

Within the 186 LGBTQ Olympic athletes, 1 in 9 are women. Which somewhat papers over the problem. In the Women's World Cup 41 players were openly gay or bisexual. In comparison, in the men’s Euro 2020 competition there were none. Joe White, a co-founder of the Three Lions Pride, which is a supporters group for the LGBTQ community, believes that ‘in the women's game, there's more diversity in the fans, less 'laddish banter'.’

Speaking to Canterbury Women's Netball player Milly Dawes, who came out as bisexual to her teammates, explained how relatively easy it was for her to come out and the troubles she imagines men have in doing the same.

“The support I received was crazy, I wasn’t sure what people would think, but the whole team was buzzing and ever since it’s just been normal, which I guess is how it is supposed to feel.

“I can imagine that is not what it is like if it was a man who came out to his football team though, I hear remarks made all the time at university, on the train, lads calling each other gay, it is simple when wondering why it’s harder for men to come out.

“You just never hear that from girls, that sort of banter or joking around, if young people grow up thinking the word gay is an insult, then there is no hope that they grow up being confident enough to come out”.

Although it is clearly not easy for men to be openly gay, especially within the sport of football, there has been some progress in recent months with Adelaide United player Josh Cavallo coming out as gay, Cavallo is the only top-flight professional footballer in the world to do so. It may only be one person; however, it is a step in the right direction, and it is certain that he will inspire others to open up.

The reason why footballers are not comfortable in coming out is obvious when considering all the abuse that swings about in the sporting industry. With situations like the Robbie Fowler and Le Saux incident back in 1999, where they both got into a spat on the pitch and Fowler abused Le Saux several times during the match calling him a “f*ggot” and a “poof”. Grassroots football is also sawed a 12% increase in 2019 in discrimination linked to sexual orientation.

Ryan Freeman, who is teammates with Sheppey United footballer Jahmal Howlett-Mundle has seen the forefront of what it is like to be openly gay in a men's football team.

“When he got us all together and told us, all the lads were buzzing for him, the club was amazing”

“We all hear comments from opposition fans and players occasionally about their opinion, but we all support him”

“I can’t imagine how hard it was for him, it is silly, some of the stuff you hear, it isn’t nice. Something needs to happen within the sport, or this will continue”.

There is certainly a long way to go in battling homophobia in football, with several reports rising and the lack of openly gay footballers, it is a major concern for the sport. But with the ‘Kick It Out’ campaign and ‘Rainbow Laces’ the sport that has brushed aside homophobia in past years, might be on its way to becoming how it should be for the LGBTQ community, and rightly so.


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