The Football Association (FA) is the body that governs men’s, women’s and youth football* in England. They’ve been responsible for regulating the sport for over 100 years. In it’s long history, the organization has been accused of many transgressions, but in the past few years they’ve been under almost constant scrutiny for their handling of homophobic hate-speech.
To give a brief bit of backstory: Homosexuality was illegal in England until 1967, and only this year did the country make a move to pardon the thousands of gay men
who were arrested under those laws, expunging the convictions from their criminal records. While there have been major improvements in the past few decades, but homophobia is still a massive problem in the UK.
With the country as a whole still playing catch-up, it’s not entirely surprising that the FA is still having their own problems with homophobia. A 2009 survey
of over 2,000 UK football fans found that 70% had heard anti-gay abuse at games and felt that the authorities had not done enough to confront the issue. Seven years later, this issue has still not been properly addressed.
Football anti-gay issues are once again front and center following a recent inquiry on football
at the House of Commons. This past October, FA chairman Greg Clarke stated that Premier League players would suffer “significant abuse” if they came out, adding: “I’m cautious of encouraging people to come out until we do our part of the bargain and stamp out abuse. I am personally ashamed they don’t feel safe to come out.”
The whole affair made quite a lot of headlines and UK Sports minister Tracey Crouch
said she was extremely disappointed over Clarke’s comments. Crouch told reporters:
“If you’ve got comments right at the top saying now is not the right time, no wonder, in many respects, that they remain scared. The legislation is in place. It’s there to help combat homophobia in the whole of society. It’s as applicable to football and to any other sport as it is to anybody else. The idea that the time isn’t right now, they were strange comments. I thought they were disappointing comments under the circumstances. So, in terms of the environment of somebody coming out, actually, today, now, there has probably never been a better time to come out.”
Of course, it wasn’t all bad news. During the inquiry, Scottish National Party MP John Nicolson claimed that “three players are in talks with the FA about coming out and they haven’t done so yet”.
No one is really sure what kind of impact this will make, as there’s not much precedent for it in the sport. Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger
became the first openly gay player with Premier League experience in 2014, but he waited until he left England before coming out. While there seems to be a huge movement for more LGBT representation in the sport, a BBC Radio 5
study from earlier this year found that 8% of fans said they would stop watching their favorite team is the squad recruited a gay player.
And the issue is not just controversial in England. Last week, Russian politicians accused the video game FIFA 17 of pushing ‘gay propaganda’
after developers backed a campaign to combat homophobia in football.
The ‘gay propaganda’ in question is the Rainbow Laces
campaign, which asks players and fans to pledge to challenge “anti-LGBT language” and “work to make every part of sport welcoming of LGBT people”.It seems very clear that the league is caught between an audience that wants progress and one who absolutely refuses to adapt.
Unfortunately, in 2013, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill “for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values”. The bill is specifically designed to combat any form of media that portrays homosexuality as a normal part of society. Obviously this shows that even if England can successfully address homophobia at home, they’re still going to face immense pressure from members of the international community.
All of this has not stopped the FA from trying to address the problem. The FA first released their action plan
for LGBT inclusion in football back in 2012, titled “The FA Action Plan for including lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGB&T) people in football”.
They’ve continued to update it regularly, and appear to have outlines a solid approach, but it has yet to yield solid results. So what exactly is the solution?
Former footballer Graeme Le Saux told Guardian
readers that the football community as a whole is to blame (“The press, the fans, the players, the stewards”). It’s our duty to stand up to homophobia, Graeme told readers; but he also made it clear that management need to take a firm stand:
“If that 8% are so appalled at the thought of a gay player being on their team then we should ask them to step forward, own their views and we can just ban them. They’re not welcome in football.”
*Americans: When I say “football”, read it as “soccer”.