Eudy Simelane, Homophobia and the World Cup

Jennifer Doyle, of the excellent From A Left Wing blog, has a must-read piece on the Guardian’s Comment Is Free about football, homophobia and sexism, framed around the horrible fate met by Eudy Simelane:

Before the start of their 2006 World Cup semi-final, players for Brazil and France stood together and held a banner declaring “Say no to racism”. The gesture was part of a Fifa campaign – each of the 64 matches included a visible statement against the racist abuse directed especially at black players in Europe. From the round banner marked with this slogan which covered the centre circle until the start of the match, to pre-game statements read by team captains before kick-off, during Fifa’s 2006 World Cup, players, fans and tournament organisers declared that racism has no place in football.

Imagine a similar intervention today. South Africa has the highest incidence of rape in the world. The statistics are chilling: one in two women are raped; women are more likely to be raped than to learn to read; and they have little reason to trust the law to defend their right to their own bodies.

One grisly dimension of this crisis is that black lesbians are singled out for homophobic rape and violent assault with particular frequency. In April 2008, Eudy Simelane, a former midfielder for South Africa’s women’s national team, was raped, beaten, stabbed and left to die in a creek 200m from her home. A shocking number of South African female athletes have been assaulted – women who dare to play a “man’s game” become visible targets.

Read the rest, but I’d also like to highlight Doyle’s conclusion as something for us to think about:

If the culture of sports can be a breeding ground for racist and xenophobic impulses, it is also a space in which sexist and homophobic attitudes are deeply ingrained. If racism in football culture should be stamped out, then surely the sexism and homophobia that shadows the women’s game nearly everywhere, but especially in South Africa, merits at least a statement from Fifa, if not a full-blown campaign – designed by South African activists and endorsed by the world’s most famous players.

The onus should also be on fans, organisers and players at grassroots levels to discuss the issue of homophobia in the game, as we’ve looked at here a few times. The more it is addressed in the open and acknowledged as an unacceptable problem, the easier it is for change to happen. A high-profile campaign from FIFA at the World Cup would be a big start and I agree with Doyle’s points, but if those of us who play, watch and most importantly discuss the game address with more honesty the lazy cultures of sexism and homophobia ingrained in it, that would help enormously.

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