Why More Needs to Be Done to Normalise Homosexuality in Football

This week it was announced that Manchester United has partnered with the LGBTQ charity Stonewall with a pledge “to tackle LGBT issues in sport and society, while looking at best practice and ways in which inclusion and equality can be improved in football.” This, without question, is a positive step forward for inclusion in the sport, but more needs to be done to address the overall debate about homosexuality in football. With the death of Justin Fashanu still a poignant reminder of what happens when a player does come out, it is no wonder there have been no high profile players willing to openly discuss their sexuality in the modern age.

In 2015, 1.7% of the UK population identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual according to the ONS. There are 4000 members of the Professional Footballers Association yet not a single player has publicly identified as LGB who is currently playing. There are a number of explanations for this, some more believable than others. In theory, there could literally be no players that identify as LGB, but statistically speaking that is nigh on impossible and simply absurd to believe. The more likely outcome nonetheless is that some players simply do not wish to disclose their sexuality to the public, which is rightly their prerogative, but more likely will not disclose their sexuality due to fear. This is simply disheartening to hear in 2017.

Yet who could blame professionals for not wanting to come out? As progressive as a country the UK is in the workforce professional football is still the one profession that is lagging in the dark ages. Take the example of former Aston Villa, Everton and West Ham midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger who came out in 2014. Speaking to Die Zeit he said, “Being gay is (a) topic that is ‘ignored’ in football and not ‘a serious topic in the changing room’. Fighting spirit, passion and winning mentality are intrinsically linked, that doesn’t fit the cliché: ‘Gays are soft’”. When a player cannot comfortably be themselves in the dressing room, ultimately their place of work, and also feel that their sexuality does not chime with the qualities needed in a footballer then the game has seriously let them down.

There are other factors, too. A serious lack of support from within the game is clearly damaging. When the head of the FA is saying just last year that “it would be impossible for a gay Premier League player to come out” then how can any non-heterosexual player have any faith in coming out? Support has to come from the very top of the game and show that there is nothing to fear about being open about your sexuality.

However, the biggest factor is still likely to be fans. When Stonewall has found in their research that 72% of fans have heard anti-LGBT remarks at games in the last five years and that one in five 18-24 year olds say they’d be embarrassed if their favourite player came out, it’s fans that need to take the walk out of the dark ages. Homophobic remarks need to be treated as seriously as racial or any other discriminatory remarks on the terraces and punished accordingly. Bans from grounds would soon hammer home the message, with arrests for the more serious offences committed. The message needs to be clear that this is not to be tolerated.

This is a topic that sorely needs addressing in the game. It is down to clubs to show that they are indeed inclusive and that their sexuality will be respected in the dressing room and the club as a whole. Partnering with charities like Stonewall is a start to help bridge the gap for players who feel excluded and help normalise the LGBTQ community in the football world. If anything, all 92 clubs in the Football League should have partners like Stonewall so that if it is accepted within the club, it will eventually seep out into the terraces and help create a more inclusive game for all.

The rainbow armbands and laces campaigns are a good start but every club needs to get on board with this message. It is simply not enough for just Manchester United to be doing it. It needs to be seen at the Bradfords, the Plymouths and the AFC Wimbledons of the Football League to show this is not just an elitist trope. The FA also needs to invest in grassroots support for players who are LGBTQ but want to play the beautiful game. Protection and support are the foundations of any player’s development in football.

But, most importantly, fans need to accept that homosexuality is a part of football whether they like it or not. They need to accept that it simply is not good enough to dismiss homophobia as banter. That it is not acceptable to normalise this type of hatred on the terraces when it would not be tolerated in the office. News that Manchester United have partnered with Stonewall should not be a great revelation, it should be the norm.

Homosexuality in football currently is not normal. It needs to be.

Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site. We cover gaming news, movie reviews, wrestling and much more.