In the 2010 World Cup in South Africa over the summer, Fifa, the international governing body of professional football, actively spoke out against racism. Before every match, players from both sides came together and held a banner that read,“Say no to racism”.
But Fifa hasn’t been nearly so vocal in speaking out against other forms of discrimination. In fact, on the subject of homophobia, Fifa has been conspicuously silent.
Described as the scourge of football by England captain Rio Ferdinand, homophobia is something that, though prevalent in the stands of football stadiums across Europe, manages to go largely unaddressed.
The problem begins and ends with the fans. Football stands have long been the home of some of the worst society has to offer, from racism to neo-fascism, and racial and homophobic slurs targeted at players can often be heard. Many cite this as the primary obstacle to gay footballers coming out.
Earlier this year, the <a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Football_Association” target=”_blank”>Football Association</A> (FA) of England released a video addressing homophobia in English football. It took the FA two years to release the video, which depicts a white-collar football fan using slurs against people in everyday life, and the campaign which the video is a part of is completely devoid of professional English footballers.
But this is hardly surprising. As Musa Okwonga, a blogger for the Independent newspaper in London, writes, homosexual footballers shouldn’t come out if it makes them uncomfortable. Okwonga acknowledges the physical and professional dangers of coming out, but thinks that the internal struggle of figuring out one’s sexuality might be another important component.
In the last 20 years there has been only one prominent case of a professional footballer coming out. Justin Fashanu was an English player who played for such clubs as West Ham and Manchester City. Fashanu came out in 1990 and was immediately condemned, and even publicly disowned by his brother.
He committed suicide in 1997.
The BBC’s Inside Out produced a short documentary on homosexuality in football, which touched on Fashanu’s case.
The homophobic culture of football is one that will take time to change, and won’t unless the entire football community comes together to change it. Football is a beautiful sport, one that brings people together, and it is truly sad to see that it is still a harbor for so much hate.