English FA to support gay footballers
The English Football Association (FA) has launched its long-awaited homophobia awareness and inclusion program while pledging its full support for any footballer willing to openly admit that they are gay, but some believe the FA must put in more concrete measures for any chance for the message to be successful.
The FA currently boasts about 3,000 professional British footballers, however none has publicly identified as gay since ex-Nottingham Forest and Norwich City striker Justin Fashanu became the first professional player to do so back in 1990.
Fashanu would later commit suicide in 1998, partly because of years of public hostility over his sexuality as well as a falling out with younger brother John, who was also a professional footballer.
Earlier this week at the launch of the ‘Opening Doors and Joining In’ campaign, the FA promised tough sanctions against anyone found to be guilty of homophobia as well as an outline of plans to introduce a ‘So What’ culture across the sport of football as part of an ongoing commitment to raising awareness.
The FA will encourage spectators, players, managers and match officials to report homophobia and transphobia, while Professional Footballers Association (PFA) chief Gordon Taylor has already authorised hundreds of awareness posters to be sent to professional clubs across the UK to be displayed in prominent positions within the clubs.
A six-point action plan will also be created to foster an environment so that LGBT people can be actively involved in the sport without having to fear discrimination or prejudice.
The plan has been criticised though by the likes of gay activist Peter Tatchell, and former NBA basketballer, John Amaechi, as being too vague and most likely to fail.
Amaechi told the BBC that the issues would not be solved by “posters and platitudes” but proper leadership by the FA as well as greater diversity among the FA board members.
“They sit in their boxes and their boardrooms and all the attention is deflected away from them.
“Well, it’s 2012 and they have just appointed their first woman to the board. Does that really tell you they are a progressive organisation or they are now reacting to the fact the focus is starting to shift on to them?” Amaechi said.
“They are by definition the problem.”
Those concerns were echoed by PFA chairman, Clarke Carlisle, who said the FA needs to make a clear stand.
“The responsibility lies with the national governing body. They need to make sure they set the precedent of levels of acceptance,” he said.
“Then the onus is on the players union, the football leagues, and the individual clubs to disseminate those messages.”
Tatchell, who has campaigned against football homophobia for the last two decades and for several years sat on the Football Association's anti-homophobia working party, said that although commendable the FA’s plans were “vague, general pledges”.
“To set the agenda and reach the fans, the Football Association should be pressing clubs to include anti-homophobia messages on tickets, in match programmes and on stadium screens at half-time,” he said.
“This would ensure the FA's new initiative gets high-profile visibility and impacts public consciousness.”
Former Chelsea and England star, Graeme Le Saux, who himself was taunted as being gay by opposing fans as well as other players, meanwhile said at the FA’s launch at Wembley Stadium that despite increased acceptance of players’ “different backgrounds”, life would still be difficult for an openly gay player.
“At the time it isolated me from team-mates and I wasn’t even gay – even 20 years on I don't think it would be easy for a player to openly admit their sexual orientation,” Le Saux said.
“My fear is the frenzy that will follow, but football is more multi-cultural than at any other time in its history so it is time for attitudes to change. Modern dressing rooms are full of different backgrounds – I don’t think people would be demanding that a gay player changed in a different dressing room.”
The launch of the FA’s new anti-homophobia and inclusion program comes a month after the BBC aired the documentary, Britain’s Gay Footballers, looking at the reasons why no gay professional British player since Fashanu had come out.
Photo: Chelsea's Graeme Le Saux confronts Liverpool's Robbie Fowler after taunts about his sexuality in 1999.