Wycombe in a league of their own
Well done to Wycombe for signing up to the Government Charter for Action to stamp out homophobia and transphobia, the first football club to do so. Admittedly the Charter is rather woolly, a set of four vague pledges with no concrete targets or deadlines, but the sentiment is key, and Wanderers’ stated commitment laudable.
Of course, the news begs a critical question. Why, given that the Charter was launched by Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone in mid-March, has it taken so long for just one club to endorse something so self-evidently worthy?
The simple answer is that, while racism in football is widely discussed and castigated (most recently following the alleged Luis Suarez v Patrice Evra and John Terry v Anton Ferdinand spats), homosexuality remains largely a taboo subject. Only last year players reportedly refused to appear in a hard-hitting FA anti-homophobia video, the launch of which the FA themselves then cancelled, incurring the wrath of the gay rights groups which had been consulted over the video’s creation. It’s very difficult to imagine that the same reticence would be shown by players and clubs if asked to appear in an anti-racism video, or to endorse an anti-racism charter.
Players – and managers too – are presumably reluctant to associate themselves with anti-homophobia campaigns for fear of being targeted themselves, whether they happen to be gay or not. Graeme Le Saux was, famously, labelled and victimised simply for his interests and reading habits. As for the lack of openly gay footballers in the top four divisions, the case of Justin Fashanu is regularly presented as something of a cautionary tale, the player’s suicide believed to have been precipitated at least in part by his persecution within the game. It’s been claimed by the likes of Max Clifford that coming out of the closet would be potentially damaging to a player’s career prospects on the pitch and commercial possibilities off it.
The thing is, though, that since the early eighties times have moved on. A 2010 University of Staffordshire survey found that 93% of fans disapproved of homophobic abuse, while in another, carried out by Stonewall in 2009, more than two thirds said they’d have no problem with supporting an openly gay player wearing their club’s shirt. Attitudes in the stands have changed, and so have attitudes in other sports – even in rugby. Since former Wales skipper Gareth Thomas came out in 2009 (to the notoriously homophobic Daily Mail), he’s received support and praise for his courage rather than abuse.
So, while Wycombe signing up to the Government Charter of Action and Man City being recognised by Stonewall as the first gay-friendly employer in the British game are clearly steps in the right direction, they’re the exceptions that seem to prove Stonewall’s rule that football remains “institutionally homophobic“. Much more has to be done – by the FA, who could make much more of the fact that Kick It Out isn’t simply an anti-racism campaign but is actually dedicated to rooting out all forms of abuse and discrimination within the sport; and by the clubs, who could follow Wycombe’s example as a way of beginning to create a more accepting and tolerant climate.
You can do your bit too, and perhaps help to shame the clubs into action, by signing up to the Charter yourself here.