Culture, Media and Sport Committee - Racism in FootballWritten evidence submitted by Stonewall

1. Stonewall welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s short inquiry into racism in football. Stonewall is a national organisation working across Great Britain that has campaigned for equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people since 1989. Stonewall has commissioned ground-breaking research into the extent of homophobia in football. This submission draws on the findings of our report Leagues Behind, based on YouGov polling of over 2,000 football fans.

2. In summary:

Racism in football continues to be a concern for many football fans in Britain. However, it is clear that fans view homophobia as a more pressing concern for the national game with one in four fans thinking football is homophobic compared to one in 10 who think that it is racist.

There is clear evidence of the extent of homophobic abuse at football matches with one in seven fans who have recently attended matches saying they have heard homophobic abuse. Homophobic abuse in football doesn’t just have an impact on lesbian, gay and bisexual people. Research has shown that it deters female and black and minority ethnic fans, as well as families, from attending matches.

Homophobic abuse has a direct impact on gay players feeling able to be open about their sexual orientation, with almost two thirds of fans saying this is the reason there are no openly gay players in Britain today. Stonewall’s research has found that people perform better in their jobs when they are open about who they are. Our work with 600 employers, who collectively employ over five million people, demonstrates that football is an exception in having no openly gay people.

There is strong support amongst fans to address homophobia in football, but they feel little has been done by football authorities. Whilst two thirds of fans have seen their clubs take action to address racist abuse, only one in five have seen their clubs take any action to address homophobic abuse.

Progress has been made by Government and football authorities in recognising homophobia as an issue, but too little practical action has been taken to address it. Stonewall in particular believes that there needs to be a specific high-profile campaign to challenge the homophobic attitudes and behaviour of some fans, players and managers, as well as specific work in youth football to challenge homophobia and support talented lesbian, gay and bisexual players.

Football receives statutory funding to increase participation in the sport, but many of the 3.7 million lesbian, gay and bisexual taxpayers in Britain are deterred from playing because of homophobic abuse. This does not demonstrate good value-for-money.

The Extent of Homophobia in Football

3. There is clear evidence of the extent of homophobic abuse in football. Stonewall’s research found that seven in 10 fans who recently attended matches had heard homophobic abuse on the football terraces. This abuse is targeted at fans, players and officials. The polling also established that whilst one in 10 fans think football is a racist sport, significantly more, one in four, think it is homophobic.

4. There are many examples of professional players who feel it is entirely acceptable to express deeply homophobic attitudes in public. Many of these incidents occur on social media, accessed and followed by many young fans. Recent examples include:

West Ham midfielder Ravel Morrison, 19, allegedly posted a tweet saying “crack head? Go suck out u little faggot your a guy that talks if u see me you try slap me I’m in manchester every week”. Morrison is followed by over 70,000 people on Twitter, including many young people. He has been charged by the FA for using homophobic language.

In November 2011 Leicester City defender Michael Ball, 32, sent a direct message on Twitter to openly gay actor Anthony Cotton, who plays a seamstress in Coronation Street. In it he said “That fucking queer, get back to your sewing machine in Corrie you moaning bastard”. Ball was fined £6,000 by the FA and had his contract with Leicester City terminated.

Oxford City striker Lee Steele posted a tweet referring to openly gay rugby player Gareth Thomas, who was appearing on Celebrity Big Brother, saying “I wouldn’t fancy the bed next to Gareth Thomas #padlockmyarse”. Steele was fined £200 by the FA and sacked by Oxford City.

5. There are also a number of specific examples where players have been the target of homophobic chants, including:

On 19 November 2011 a number of Southampton FC fans chanted homophobic abuse targeted at the fans of opposing team Brighton and Hove Albion. Two fans were arrested, fined and banned from matches for chanting homophobic abuse.

On 28 September 2008 at a match between Portsmouth FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC fans engaged in chanting targeted at Portsmouth defender Sol Campbell. This chanting included “Come on gay boy, that’s my gay boy”. A number of fans, including two 15 year olds, were charged and prosecuted for the chants.

Football fans polled by YouGov cited many examples of homophobic chants they had heard recently at football matches including “At home, away, he’s still a fucking gay…” and “He’s gay, he’s bent, his arse is up for rent…”.

The Impact on Players, Fans and Young People

6. Fans are clear that the failure to address homophobia in football has a negative impact on players. Two thirds of fans think that homophobic abuse from fans deters gay professional football players from coming out, whilst just under half feel that homophobic abuse from other players deters them from doing so.

7. Stonewall’s research has also shown that homophobia in football has an impact on the wider diversity of football. Homophobia on the terraces is a clear deterrent for many female and black and minority ethnic football fans from attending matches, with over one in four black and minority ethnic fans and one in five female fans saying they would be more likely to attend football matches if homophobic abuse was addressed.

8. Homophobic abuse also has a dramatic impact on the number of lesbian, gay and bisexual people playing football. Just under a third of lesbian and gay football fans have played amateur football, compared to two in five heterosexual fans. This is unsurprising given the extent of homophobic abuse in amateur football, with over two in five gay people who’ve played football at an amateur level having heard homophobic abuse whilst playing.

9. It is clear that there is a particular impact on the participation of young lesbian, gay and bisexual people in football, with over half of young gay people saying they do not like playing team sports such as football. Stonewall is deeply concerned that many young gay people who could play to a professional standard are deterred from doing so because of homophobia in the sport.

Inaction from Football Authorities

10. Stonewall believes that not enough action has been taken by football authorities and clubs to address homophobia in the sport. Fans agree, with around half feeling the FA, the Premier League and clubs should do more to address homophobia. Whilst almost two thirds of fans have seen their club taking action to address racism in football, only one in six have seen them take action on homophobia.

11. The Government has launched Tackling Homophobia and Transphobia in Sport: A Charter for Action. Stonewall believes that whilst this helps football authorities and clubs make an important visible commitment to tackling homophobia, it does not require them to take any action to address it.

12. Stonewall believes there is a noticeable lack of action being taken by the Premier League and individual clubs. There is also a clear absence of visible support for addressing homophobia amongst players, managers and senior staff of individual clubs. Stonewall believes that their visible support is key to ensuring that homophobia is tackled in football.

Action that could be taken by Football Authorities to Address Homophobia

13. Stonewall recognises that progress has been made by the football authorities on the issue of homophobia. However, it is clear from football’s previous work to address racism and from Stonewall’s work with other organisations such as the Rugby Football League and the Royal Navy, that to effectively challenge homophobic attitudes and behaviour practical action needs to be taken.

14. Taking action to address homophobia is clearly supported by fans with two thirds believing that football would be a better sport if homophobic abuse was addressed. Fans also believe that lessons should be learnt from previous efforts to address racism. Two in five fans believe football is less racist than 20 years ago as a direct result of action taken by clubs, whilst over a third believe high-profile anti-racism campaigns have made the sport less racist.

15. Stonewall believes that to effectively address homophobia in football the football authorities need to make a concerted effort in the same way they have worked to tackle racism. This includes:

A high-profile campaign, visibly supported by players and managers, to challenge homophobic attitudes amongst fans.

Specific work in youth football to challenge homophobic abuse and attitudes and to support young lesbian, gay and bisexual players.

Clubs becoming more robust in identifying and challenging homophobic abuse amongst their fans, using strong sanctions against fans who use homophobic abuse—such as banning perpetrators from matches.

The Police and the Crown Prosecution Service improving the identification of incidents of homophobic abuse, their investigation and prosecution.

The provision of clear and robust guidance on how to challenge homophobic abuse by players and how to support gay players.

The provision of clear guidance on how to report incidents of homophobic abuse when they do occur, and why it’s important to do so.

February 2012

Prepared 18th September 2012