After Racism, English Football's Next Challenge Is Tackling Homophobia
After successfully battling racism in English professional football, authorities are striving to stamp out homophobia as fans wait to see if any player will publicly disclose he is gay.
"I am convinced it's not our role to out" gay footballers, Football Association ambassador Dave Raval said, while also lauding the FA for doing "more than any other national association" to tackle homophobia.
"There are no senior level players, referees, managers or administrators who are out. Statistically there must be lots of gay players and none of them are out in the professional game.
"It is not our job to out them," Raval told a meeting on the sidelines of British trade unions' annual conference this month.
Authorities stepped up efforts to combat homophobia within the game after former England defender Sol Campbell was subjected to abusive chanting while playing for Premier League side Portsmouth a year ago.
In May, a 42-year-old man and a 14-year-old boy were banned from attending football matches for three years for shouting "Come on gay boy, that's my gay boy" at Campbell as he played against one of his former clubs, Tottenham.
Raval, who refereed the 2007 gay world cup final in Argentina, said the bans were a clear statement that homophobia "is not permitted in football today."
Also in the past year, homophobic abuse on an English football field has become an automatic red card offence.
Joining the FA in trying to stamp out homophobia is the Professional Footballers' Association -- a union representing full-time players in England that has strived to fight racism in recent years.
In terms of "addressing our minority workers we have come a long way," Simone Pound, equality executive at the PFA, told the meeting attended by Raval and held during the Trades Union Congress' annual conference in September.
"We were instrumental in working with our black members in the early 1990s in response to the racist abuse they encountered," she said.
Now in a bid to tackle homophobia, Pound said the PFA was working with clubs' young players, "challenging language and perceptions so that hopefully in time the game will change."
It is almost 20 years since Norwich and Nottingham Forest striker Justin Fashanu became the only footballer in England to disclose he was gay while playing professionally.
In memory of Fashanu, who committed suicide in 1998, an organisation was last year launched to highlight homophobia prevalent in football.
The Justin Campaign, founded by Jason Hall, sets out "to raise awareness of the damaging effects of homophobia, tackle its very existence within the game and look to a future where ability within football counts, not a person's sexuality."
According to a recent survey carried out on behalf of the gay lobby group Stonewall, 70 percent of fans have witnessed anti-gay abuse at football matches in Britain.
The YouGov poll of more than 2,000 supporters also revealed that three in five fans believed such abuse dissuades gay players from disclosing their sexuality.
"Sadly, this survey demonstrates that football is institutionally homophobic," Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill said in a statement following the survey's publication last month.
"Too little action has been taken about an issue which deters not just gay players and fans from enjoying our national game, but also thousands of other fans too.
"Football has a firm track record tackling problems such as hooliganism and racism. But anti-gay abuse still almost always goes unchallenged," he added.
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