Tackling Homophobia on the Pitch

Pete Simpson

Anyone catch a Premiership match last weekend? Well, apparently a few of the games were a little more colourful, not because of an extra fight, louder explicit language, or a streaker (what a shame). No, the game was a little brighter as players were encouraged to play wearing rainbow coloured boots in support of the say no to homophobia campaign, although admittedly you might not have seen that many.

A campaign by Stonewall, and supported by bookmakers Paddy Power, asked football teams across the land to wear rainbow laces while playing last weekend. Unfortunately, due to the tie-ins most clubs have with certain bookmakers, the involvement of Paddy Power meant that not all teams, including Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United wanted to partake. However, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger told his players that he was more than happy to let his players support the campaign and wear the laces if they so choose. The campaign itself though has come under fire from some equality groups, suggesting the name of the initiative with the wording ‘Right Behind Gay Footballers’ is just a little too stereotypical and  does nothing to help its own cause, potentially also affecting take up.

The whole debate has been great for bringing homophobia in the game into the spotlight, but should an organisation like Stonewall be enforcing their agenda in such a way? In concocting an atmosphere of footballing peer-pressure, are footballers forced to support the cause regardless of their opinion on gay rights? Perhaps some don’t want to be associated with anti-homophobia propaganda.

Matt Bloomfield, midfielder for Wycombe Wanderers supported the campaign from the moment he heard about it. Bloomfield has a gay member of his family and expressed that he understands the prejudice he has faced throughout his life. So when a sportsman has a reason to partake in a campaign such as this it’s so important for society to see. Football v Homophobia, another organisation aiming to improve education surrounding homophobia in sport, suggested  ‘Right Behind Gay Footballers’ reinforced stereotypes that blurred the lines between homophobic language and football banter. Opinion is evidently split.

With this campaign it’s not just sportsmen getting behind it, the government have a charter to tackle homophobia in the sport. Can sports be a catalyst for such issues, or rather are they bastions of old-world bigotry, left behind by the move towards equality in wider society?

The fight to rid the so called beautiful game and other sports from homophobia has been assisted with celebrity endorsements from Joey Barton in particular, as well as rugby icon Ben Cohen, now an even bigger mainstream name thanks to his appearance on this year’s Strictly Come Dancing. Cohen has catapulted the issue to the forefront of many individuals’ minds through the Ben Cohen Stand Up  Foundation. Groups such as the Warwick Rowers club who have gained over 4,000 followers on twitter thanks to their naked calendar, have helped raise the foundation’s awareness even more, offering a more sustained and thought out approach to the issue than RBGF.

With Right Behind Gay Footballers, the balance of social equality and promotional opportunity no doubt made this snapshot campaign appealing to Paddy Power, and Stonewall’s heart was undoubtedly in the right place. However, the badly worded initiative risks trivialising the concerted efforts of gay rights movements in sport than doing any realgood. Either way, for those players who wear their rainbow laces with pride, it’s a step forward. Whilst it undoubtedly had its pitfalls, and was limited in success, it is undeniable that any attempt to highlight and eradicate homophobia is a step in the right direction, so should be applauded, despite its failings.


Find out more about the Stonewall campaign at www.stonewall.org.uk and follow the Warwick Naked Rowers @naked_rowers.

About Pete Simpson

Pete is a 20 year old (and some) guy who describes himself as a social entrepreneur. He is an LGBT charity trustee and was voted best dressed male 2004 at sixth form college. Often found with a beer, in Birmingham, London or Milton Keynes. Twitter @cardboardcakes