Football Association Fails to Tackle Homophobia. Again.

Stonewall Report on Gay Abuse cover

Six months ago, we ran a post entitled “The Failure of the Football Association to Tackle Homophobia in English Football.” It featured a report from Stonewall, a lesbian, gay and bisexual rights charity, that highlighted some very depressing findings on the prevalence of homophobia in English football:

  • 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

We quoted Chris Basiurski, of the chair of the Gay Football Supporters’ Network (GFSN), who 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.”

And it’s now two years on since Jennifer Doyle first addressed the F.A.’s failures in a similar vein on these pages.

Sadly, a long piece today in the Guardian suggests the Football Association is still (to be kind about it) in a total muddle about what to do:

The Football Association’s commitment to tackling homophobia in the game was today called into question by gay rights groups after the launch of a much-heralded film designed to confront the issue was cancelled at the last minute.

Amid some unease about the content of the hard-hitting video, produced by advertising agency Ogilvy to a brief agreed by the FA itself, football diversity campaign group Kick It Out and gay rights group OutRage, Thursday’s planned launch of the film at Wembley Stadium has been cancelled.

The campaign had been in development for almost two years and had been billed as an important moment in an embryonic drive to tackle homophobia among players, fans and administrators.

“This last-minute cancellation is a big disappointment. It has thrown the Football Association’s commitment to tackling homophobia into disarray,” said OutRage campaigner Peter Tatchell.

“Contrary to what the FA is now saying, the video and strategy was agreed nearly two years ago. This postponement comes on top of the FA’s dissolution of the broad-based Tackling Homophobia Working Group,” he added.

He said the group had helped implement many constructive initiatives to rid football of homophobia, but members had now been replaced by a “hand-picked, much smaller and less representative” group. “It no longer includes all interested stakeholders,” he said.

Last year, Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, said the results of a survey showing that seven in 10 fans had witnessed homophobic abuse proved that football was “institutionally homophobic”.

The video shows a man abusing workmates, tube passengers and a newspaper seller with anti-gay taunts, before doing the same at a football match. Captions make the point that since homophobic behaviour is not acceptable outside football stadiums, it should not be acceptable within them either. The FA planned to release the viral video via YouTube and its website.

The mess has now encompassed concerns about the video itself expresed by former NBA player John Amaechi, who said the film was “further proof of the FA’s willingness to window-dress its most serious problems.”

On his blog, Amaechi went further, saying:

A lot has heard over the last 18 months about Football’s “groundbreaking” advert to combat homophobia.  People have talking to me about it coming down the line and there were even reports that it would have actual professional players in it.

The film that was created – starting in February 2009 – doesn’t have any players in it, lacks a cohesive narrative and certainly is one of the most offensive adverts I have seen in a long time.  Maybe I am not cool, or tuned into “the industry” but I was horrified when I first saw it and made sure that I was going to be as far away from London as possible next Thursday, when it was due to premiere to much fanfare and media acclaim.

However, today, at about 11:30am,  sitting in a meeting with some members of Kick It Out phones started buzzing around me and the news came that the Chief Exec of the FA had cancelled the premiere.

All in all, just an absolute mess made by the Football Association. Gary Andrews commented here last month on how relatively smoothly rugby player Gareth Thomas became the first prominent openly gay player in that sport: it turned out not to be much of a fuss.

Sadly, in football, such a day still seems far off, and this fiasco from the Football Association will only make any player considering coming out as gay think again, I fear. At best, it certainly won’t help.

EDIT: Just received a press release from the Justin Campaign about all this:

The Justin Campaign are saddened at the FA’s announcement of postponing the launch of their new video aimed at tackling homophobia in football. However after having the opportunity to read John Amaechi’s take on the content of the video; think that the FA have been wise in their decision to seek further consultation on the videos production and subsequent release.

The postponement of this long awaited and much needed video has raised grave concerns regarding the FA’s overall approach to tackling homophobia. The Justin Campaign hope that the FA will see this as an opportunity to review the way they consult on their new strategy and open up this process to include the wider LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) community.

If the FA’s new strategy is to include anything let it’s priority be the positive portrayal of LGBT people to it’s supporters, players and staff and the introduction of creative educational programmes, their foundation in sport, that engage with youth and adults alike on issues surrounding diversity. The overall message being that homophobia is unacceptable in any form, anywhere.

On February 19th The Justin Campaign are launching an initiative Football v Homophobia, an international day opposing homophobia in football and an opportunity to unite the efforts of all those working to challenge homophobia in football. Let the future of this initiative see the development of partnerships that have the power to bring about much needed change, in a much loved game.

5 thoughts on “Football Association Fails to Tackle Homophobia. Again.

  1. WB05 Karl

    Maybe there’s something I’m missing here but I don’t understand the FA’s cancellation of these sort of events and programs. It seems to me they’d have everything to gain in the long run by promoting these sort of progressive (is that even the right word? Reasonable? Common sense?) projects and outreaches.

    What am I missing? I just do not understand this.

  2. Elliott

    Well written Tom, but shouldn’t we look at the local clubs and not the FA? As a quasi-athlete-failure, I think that certain specific physical barriers (shared showers, public lockers) need to be reevaluated and replaced to create an atmosphere for LGBT athletes to have the comfort level to come out to teammates.

    These quasi private/public remants of “open masculinity” can make both LGBT and heteros (“breeders” as we like to be called) more comfortable in a transition period. And I think this starts with the grounds,pitches, locker rooms, and clubs.

  3. Tom Dunmore Post author

    Karl, I think the FA’s failure has both deep roots and short term factors behind it. As Jennifer points out here, the FA has a long history of failing to come to terms with what she rightly says is a long history of its own prejudices.

    The English tabloid press hardly help matters for the FA, though, as they consider all this from a PR perspective. The abuse Justin Fashanu, the first prominent openly gay footballer in England, received from the press indirectly led to his suicide.

    Moreover, it’s just not a priority for the FA. The lack of diversity at the top of the FA itself is a cause of this. In my opinion, I don’t think they understand or care all that much about it.

    Finally, they are often terribly hamfisted even on things that are priorities, such as the World Cup bid. So we can also chalk it down to the ineptitude that often accompanies their efforts.

    That might all be a bit hard on the FA. I’d let someone closer to London now provide perhaps a fairer take.

    Elliott, I wouldn’t disagree, and many groups like the Justin Campaign and the Gay Football Supporters’ Network do I believe also work on that at the grassroots with clubs. But leadership from the top is also needed, especially when there’s a very clear taboo barrier right now at the top of the game that needs to be broken through. If the FA don’t want to tackle homophobia, then they shouldn’t keep saying they are going to and then make a mess of it as in this case. Certainly though, the broader culture change needed wouldn’t come just from a video from the FA, however good it was.

  4. Bobby

    As much as I would love for the FA to push more resources toward eradication of homophobia in their jurisdiction, it’s not just them. There is no precedent in global sport for anti-homophobia legislation, and in some ways that’s reflective of our society, homophobia is the last form of socially acceptable discrimination.

    It isn’t just football either, sadly. You don’t see the major sports league here in the States actively pushing to keep homophobia out of their ranks. As far as I know, the only team sports athletes to come out while still active are females (Sheryl Swoopes and Natasha Kai, who have represented the US in their respective sports, that I know of off-hand).

    It has to be said though, there is a light atop the hill at the club level in the form of St Pauli, but aren’t they always the beacon for progressive change in football?

    Vikash Dhorasoo, the somewhat enigmatic Indian-French player, has spoken out against homophobia in football a number of times, and even lended his name and face to a campaign by Paris Foot Gay ( Sol Campbell has openly spoken out against it as well, and Campbell has been on the end of some filthy homophobic stick despite being heterosexual.

  5. Pingback: Football vs. Homophobia: The Justin Campaign Takes Action | Pitch Invasion