The Failure of the Football Association to Tackle Homophobia in English Football

Justin Fashuna on the cover of the Gay Times

Stonewall, a lesbian, gay and bisexual rights charity, released a damning report on homophobia in English football this week entitled “Leagues Behind – Football’s Failure to Attack Anti-Gay Abuse”. Stonewall found that 7 out of 10 fans have heard homophobic abuse directed at players during a game, and branded the sport “institutionally homophobic.”  Stonewall’s survey of over 2,000 football fans found that a majority think that the football authorities don’t do enough to tackle homophobia in football. They summarised the report’s findings as follows:

  • Three in five fans believe that anti-gay abuse from fans dissuades gay players from coming out
  • Almost two thirds of fans believe football would be a better sport if anti-gay abuse was eradicated
  • Two thirds of fans would feel comfortable if a player on their team came out
  • Over half of fans think the FA, Premier League and Football League are not doing enough to tackle anti-gay abuse

Perhaps most worrying is that while 61% of fans think there is less racist abuse in football today than two decades ago, only 31% believe there is less homophobic abuse now than then.” This feeds into the final point above: while there has been a considerable coordinated and concerted effort to eradicate racism from football, no such effort on anywhere near the same scale has taken place to tackle homophobia. Indeed, one fan in the report made a direct link between the two trends in the report: “It [anti-gay abuse] has gone up if anything. Football seems to now be comfortable with anti-gay chants and abuse and not racism. One seems to have been replaced by the other.”

Apparently, the tragic story of Justin Fashanu, football’s first prominent openly gay footballer who committed suicide in 1998, has not proven to be a wake-up call over the last decade for the authorities, despite the efforts of campaigners like Stonewall United FC player Jason Hall, who last year set-up the Justin Campaign to fight homophobia and called on authorities to support the campaign’s aims.

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In a similar vein, Chris Basiurski, the chair of the Gay Football Supporters’ Network (GFSN), called the survey’s results unsurprising and challenged the authorities to provide more support to anti-homophobia campaigners.  “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,” he said. “When we have approached the clubs, many have commented that homophobia is not a problem in their club. Hopefully the findings in this report will make them think again.” Only one in six fans told Stonewall’s survey that their club was doing anything to tackle anti-gay abuse, compared to three in five who were aware of anti-racist campaigns by their clubs.

Stonewall recommends that “sanctions used against fans who perpetuate anti-gay abuse and violence are consistent with those for racist abuse. Kick It Out, the FA’s anti-abuse campaign, needs to be properly resourced to challenge anti-gay abuse, and this role should be more widely promoted.” Page twelve of Stonewall’s report is the most damning, with a series of anonymous “football industry insiders” criticising the entire culture of the football authorites, who seem unable to even identify homphobia as a serious problem to be challenged. “It’s definitely leadership from the top,” One is quoted as saying. “It’s definitely getting people within the football authorities to kind of come out and not even just say ‘Well this is something that we want to address.’ It’s the whole thing about actions speak louder than words isn’t it?”

The Guardian adds that “Although the game’s regulator has been in dialogue with the equality campaign for a few years, there is private dismay in the gay community at the lack of real progress on the issue of homophobia. Attempts to get “senior support”, that is from high-profile FA executives who could lend their weight to the publication were, well, stonewalled. But since the FA’s chairman, David Triesman, below, said it was not an FA matter but “for the club” to issue sanctions against the Tottenham fans who hurled criminally homophobic abuse at Portsmouth’s Sol Campbell in 2008, that might have been expected.”  The survey reported that five out of six fans supported the charging of fans in connection with the alleged anti-gay abuse used against Sol Campbell, only making the F.A.’s lack of action appear more out of step with public opinion.

Of course, it would take more than the F.A. to solve the problem; many in the report noted the virulent anti-gay undertone of much tabloid press coverage, and the chicken-and-egg situation of the general football fan culture that seems to deem acceptable anti-gay abuse. But there’s no doubt a public campaign needs to be led from the top and would provide a critical kick-start to kicking homophobia out of football.

Notably, unlike the Professional Footballers Association, the Football Association itself has yet to comment on the report.

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