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19:57 | 24th March 2017

Reviews: Film and Book reviews

Tue 31 Jan, 2012
By Robert Ingham


It seems the closer you get to the source of the flame, the further they want to pull it away.

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Beautiful Game? Beautiful Shame...

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Twenty-two men chasing a ball. 60,000 men watching and singing whilst jumping on each other. Millions of pounds spent each year on merchandise.

“How Gay Is That?!”

However, with over 5,000 professional footballers in Britain, it is astounding to learn there is not a single player who has come out as gay or bi-sexual in over 20 years.

Justin Fashanu broke the mould two decades ago by very publicly announcing his sexuality to the world, hoping this would bring a new openness within football, before tragically committing suicide. Alas, this never happened and it seems in some way to have had the reverse effect.

BBC Three screened a documentary on Monday called Britain’s Gay Footballers which followed Amal Fashanu (Justin’s niece) as she tried to discover why there are no openly gay/bi sexual footballers in this day and age of civil partnerships, gay marriages and celebrities, and where being gay is the norm. Yet as Amal tried to garner interviews, she discovered a country steeped in old-fashioned ideas, led by straight men seemingly unwilling to change their ways, and their homophobia.

Sometimes a tough watch, Britain’s Gay Footballers showed the Football Association as having a long way to go to dismantle its own prejudices and highlighted the fact that so many other sports are way ahead of them in tackling homophobia. Whilst Amal initially failed to get any interviews with footballers, rugby player Gareth Thomas, his straight team mates and even John Amaechi, who was openly gay when he played basketball, were only too happy to take part. It showed that, even in the most macho of sports, homosexuality was completely acceptable and homophobia was not tolerated.

Throughout the programme, Amal had great courage to discuss some very difficult issues, especially with her father, John who was Justin’s brother. She confronted John’s reaction to Justin coming out: “I wouldn’t want to get changed in the vicinity of him and I’m sure others feel the same.” His explanation of “I was doing it for the good of the family” didn’t quite ring true, and it felt like his tears were really only because his daughter was upset.

Back on her quest, the finger of blame kept being pointed back to the FA, certainly when Amal had an interview with a gay assistant referee planned, who was then ordered that “match officials weren’t allowed to talk... during football season”. It seems the closer you get to the source of the flame, the further they want to pull it away.

On the one hand, it was heartening to hear fans saying they wouldn’t care if the player in the team they supported was gay as long as he played well. It was also wonderful to hear one young fan say “racial abuse is banned, why not homophobic abuse”. On the other hand, the chants of “Does Your Boyfriend Know You’re Here?” came across as both typical match mentality used to taunt the other team, and as childish homophobia.

Amal quizzed Funke Awodoru, the FA’s Equality Manager, about how the FA is going to change the current situation. “The FA is changing and we have a genuine commitment to tackle the issue. We are putting together a 4 year plan to portray gay men in a positive light... going back to grass roots and educate as widely as possible.”

Sounds highly promising but with Olympics fever gathering pace, and with the general feeling on/off the pitch, from fans as well as team members, that being openly gay in professional football would be accepted, it feels we are a long way off their plan. However it has worked for Anton Hysen, who is the only openly gay footballer in the world. He is respected by everyone and has the full support of both his management, football association and his social/family network.

Maybe that is where the changes should begin. Not just with the FA, but at home. Education, not arrogance. As Funke says – start at the roots and work upwards. The world can be changed. It’s just that everyone has to do their bit to change attitudes and make it a safe environment for those to come out and be themselves. Until then, football will remain stuck in an outdated vortex, caught behind the times, and the equality we strive for will never happen.

Let’s make the Beautiful Game beautiful again.

 

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