Critique – Homophobia in sport

© Chainless Photography courtesy of Creative Commons

Homophobia has been an ongoing issue in UK sport.

Certain sports like rugby and football are believed to be masculine which has created divisions in the locker room and on the terraces.

Now it is believed that homophobia is emerging as a bigger issue than other forms of racism with a recent poll conducted by BBC Sport asking 2,896 sports fans in England, Wales and Scotland about their attitudes to homophobia.

82% said that they would be comfortable with an openly gay player at their club, however 18% said gay players should ‘keep it to themselves,’ and 7% said that they would not watch their team if they fielded a gay player.

FA chairman Greg Clarke told MPs he felt a gay premier league player would be subjected to significant abuse from fans. Of the fans surveyed 47% had heard homophobic abuse at sports matches, with 68% saying that clubs should do more to educate fans about homophobia, and 57% said that gay players should come out to help others do the same.

10th May 2015

The critique starts in 2015, and shows that there is still an issue in sport dominated by men, two years after the ‘Out on the Fields’ survey in to homophobia was released. “Out on the Fields survey into Homophobia in sport lays bare the extent of the challenges facing LGBT athletes and spectators in Britain and beyond.” (Gibson, 2017)

16th August 2015

Interestingly there has never been a premier league football player to come out as gay. Following the survey a few months later in August, rugby league star Keegan Hirst came out. He was the first rugby league star to do so as reported in the daily mirror “The 6ft 4in captain of West Yorkshire side Batley Bulldogs said: ‘At first I couldn’t even say I’m gay in my head, let alone out loud.’” (Hill, 2017)

23rd October 2015

It was announced again in the daily mirror that two premier league players were preparing to come out about their sexulity. ”Two Premier League players one of them an England star are planning to announce they are gay. They would be the first players from England’s top flight to come out while still playing since Justin Fashanu in 1990.” (Burnett and Malyon, 2017)

5th April 2016

However gay footballers appear to have stayed silent in fear of a backlash and taunts from fans. The government held an inquiry to investigate the different experiences of men and women across a range of sports. This followed a previous enquiry into racism which highlighted that homophobia was emerging as a bigger form of discrimination. “It is clear homophobia remains a serious issue, ‘said culture, Media and Sport Committee chair Jesse Norman. We are particularly interested in looking at the possible differences between sports, and sports governing bodies, and between the experiences of sportsmen and sportswomen.” (BBC Sport, 2017)

17th October 2016

Following the end of the enquiry, it was reported that the football association chairman Greg Clarke warned that openly gay premier league players would get significant abuse and encouraged them to be cautious about coming out. ”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.” (BBC Sport, 2017)

26th October 2016

An online survey commissioned by the BBC and carried out by ComRes revealed that 71% of football fans thought it was the clubs responsibility to do more to educate the fans. However former premier league striker Chris Sutton speaking to the BBC on the 26th October 2016 said: ”Clarke had ‘taken the easy way out’ by being dictated to by 8% of cavemen. Coming out wouldn’t be a problem in the workplace. Working at a football club is just like anywhere else. Players I played with wouldn’t bat an eyelid” (BBC Sport, 2017) In the same article Simone Pound head of equality and diversity at the Professional Footballers Association, told BBC sport the PFA and the FA were not blaming anyone and that is was up to the individual player.

8th November 2016

Another article by the BBC interviewing british race walker Tom Bosworth and former NBA star John Amaechi suggested that players would be able to focus on their sport instead of hiding. “If someone is using 1% of their energy to stop themselves being who they are, that is the difference between being good and being great.” (BBC Sport, 2017)

11th January 2017

Over a year later there is still no openly gay player in the premier league. Speaking in the Sun newspaper Liam Davis the country’s only openly gay semi-professional football player said: “Everyone will be interested in the England star or top Premier League name rather than the ones at the more unfashionable clubs. Also by doing it as a group it’ll almost feel as though it’s some big gay celebration day.” (The Sun, 2017)

6th February 2017

More pressure has been put on premier league players to come out after former rugby referee Nigel Owens talked about his experience: “Unless you are happy with who you are then you cannot excel and be the best you can be at whatever you are doing. Refereeing  that World Cup final between Australia and New Zealand in front of 85,000 people and Millions of people watching at home, scrutinising every single decision you make under a huge amount of pressure, was nothing compared to the challenge of accepting who I was and accepting who I was then saved my life.” (, 2017)

12th February 2017

A new report by the culture media and sports committee said that attitudes towards gay people within sport, particularly football, are still “out of step” with wider society. ”We’ve received evidence that within the locker room the atmosphere can sometimes be one where homophobic language may be used in an off-hand manner and if there was a cultural problem within certain clubs even if it’s not international, that may put off a gay athlete of coming out if they fear they may be picked upon or victimised as a consequence of doing so.” (Sky News, 2017)

10th March 2017

This could possibly explain why so far there have been no premier league players come out  as gay. Stonewall a charity that campaigns for greater inclusion and acceptance of members of the LGBT community have vowed to continue working until everyone feels free to be who they are wherever they are. ”Their link up with Manchester United is the first of its kind in the top tier of English football. Fair play to Manchester United for occupying that platform in a way no Premier League club has to date. The problem is it shouldn’t have taken them or any other club this long.” (Varsity Online, 2017)



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