Homophobia in Sport Contents

2How things can change

LGB visibility

30.As has been made clear, there are no openly gay players in the professional football leagues in England and Scotland. The presence of LGB figures in other roles such as officials and coaches is very limited. Therefore LGB visibility, where it exists, is generally provided by LGB supporters’ groups. These supporters’ groups are a relatively recent development, with the first of these the ‘Gay Gooners’ from Arsenal Football Club, being founded at the beginning of 2014. Several other clubs have since been formed including the ‘Proud Canaries’ of Norwich City Football Club, the ‘Canal St. Blues’ of Manchester City and the ‘Proud Lilywhites’ of Tottenham Hotspur and there are now 24 LGB fan groups. We heard from the organiser of Proud Canaries, Di Cunningham, about the role and importance of Norwich’s and other LGB fan groups. She told us how LGB visibility at the Norwich City ground at Carrow Road has been brought about through members of Proud Canaries parading on the pitch at half-time, as well as the group’s banner being displayed on the pitch.46 Fan groups also engage in educational programmes, such as involvement with staff and steward training. Proud Canaries, in particular, have taken on an advisory role when Norwich City reviewed its stadium signage, ensuring that, in the future, it must specifically make reference to the policy of not tolerating homophobia. It is particularly notable that supporters’ groups take part in engagement schemes with the wider LGB community, such as providing tickets to matches to those in the LGB community who have not been to a football match before.47 We consider innovative schemes such as these to be particularly important.

31.We also appreciate the work of clubs such as Crystal Palace Football Club which has a full-page LGB fan group section in its programme for each match.48 Having LGB visibility within sports stadia is important as it appears to help put homophobic abuse into context. Spectators are less likely to engage in homophobic behaviour if they can identify with the group which they are mocking—for example, by realising that some of their fellow fans are LGB and are likely to be hurt and offended by such attacks. Many supporters’ groups run social media accounts where they challenge the use of homophobic language where it is used. This is an important step towards tackling the anachronistic and often embedded use of homophobic language and can educate others as to why it is not acceptable.

32.We are hopeful that increased LGB visibility will encourage the ‘self-reporting’ of homophobic incidents among fans. Spectators are more likely to become increasingly uncomfortable with hearing anti-LGB language on the terraces. Di Cunningham described this as “a crowd taking control of their match-day experience”. Cunningham told us that she believed that the increase in reported homophobic incidents was not due to an increase in homophobia but, rather, an increased confidence among fans to challenge language that they were uncomfortable with. She said:

It was not because Norwich City is a really homophobic place. It isn’t. It was just that people were calling it. (The crowd) don’t want to hear homophobic abuse. They may well have gay, lesbian, bi or trans relatives or friends and they don’t want to hear that kind of stuff.49

33.The work of LGB supporters is significant and should be actively encouraged by their affiliated clubs. Clubs should take a tougher stance when homophobic abuse is directed at these groups. We have heard how, at a match against Birmingham City in 2014, homophobic comments were directed at Proud Canaries when they paraded on the pitch at halftime. Similarly, Gay Gooners faced homophobic abuse after they were founded, particularly on social media where offensive comments were made relating to the fan group. Those who were responsible for the comments made at the Norwich City vs. Birmingham City match were warned about their future conduct and told that they would face an ‘indefinite ban’ if they were to offend again.50 Football clubs should take a tougher approach to incidents of homophobic abuse, issuing immediate bans. We are not advocating immediate lifetime bans. Instead, issuing bans of one to two years in the first instance would indicate clearly that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated.

Safe Spaces

34.We recognise the importance of safe and welcoming environments in which to participate in sport for the LGB community and believe that LGB-friendly sports clubs go some way towards addressing the problem of historically low participation rates among the LGBT community. We would particularly like to commend the work of the Amateur Swimming Association, who have been trailblazers in encouraging LGB participation and have been proactive in assessing how best to assess the needs of this community. We would like to encourage the national governing bodies of all sports to take the time to identify what the key barriers to participation are and how it can be encouraged. It is important for all national governing bodies to develop up-to-date and tailored toolkits on how best to approach LGBT participation sensitively and ensure that all staff are educated and aware enough to assist and deal with queries appropriately.

35.We believe that LGB-specific sessions within sport may be beneficial. We would also encourage all national governing bodies to promote the establishment and development of LGB-friendly clubs which are to be affiliated to the relevant governing body. This must be understood as a measure of encouraging inclusivity of all sports enthusiasts regardless of their sexual preference and by no means seen as a move towards creating divisions between specific groups or members of society.

Role Models

36.We recognise the importance of LGB role-models within sport and, as we acknowledged earlier, believe that openly LGB sportspeople such as Tom Daley, Gareth Thomas and Casey Stoney have been of great help and comfort to LGB youth who may be struggling with their sexuality. Seeing an openly gay man such as Tom Daley achieve success gives LGB youth a figure to identify with at a time when they often feel alone. Those who may be struggling to come to terms with who they are may see someone like Tom Daley and think that if he can be happy and successful then they can too. Jamie Hooper of the Amateur Swimming Association told us of the importance of sportspeople as role models when he said:

People like Tom have changed a generation of thinking about coming out in sport, particularly because he did it so young, so early on in his career and then had gone on to achieve great things. …That offers a lot of support for younger people particularly who want to come out.51

37.However, we are aware that coming out is often a very difficult and personal decision to make. John Amaechi described the experience:

People coming out—your identity is the most precious thing you have. It is one of the most precious and fragile things that we have, so what you are doing when you come out is not just a statement about you, it is a statement about the people around you. You are saying to them, “Here is the most precious thing I have. I am entrusting you with it, knowing that you will take as good a care of this as I would”.52

38.We welcome the increasing LGB visibility within sport and note that many sports, particularly rugby, have made significant progress in this respect. However, we feel that no sportsperson should feel under undue pressure or feel ‘forced’ to come out. Coming out is a personal and private decision which should not be determined by others.

39.We regret that there is so little LGB visibility in football. We warmly support and encourage the first player, or group of players, who feel they are comfortable and confident enough to come out as we believe that they will make a valuable and significant contribution to football.

Corporate Sponsorship

40.Throughout this inquiry it has become clear that there is a general perception that coming out would affect corporate sponsorship adversely. A fear of a loss of income, in addition to all of the other concerns we have cited, may prevent sportspeople from coming out. This is particularly the case when considering those sportspeople who may not be out but who are already high-profile as they would have more to lose. This is especially true within football where there is higher earning potential from sponsorships than most other sports. This goes some way in explaining why there are no openly gay players in the English professional leagues. The idea that someone may have to risk their livelihood is undoubtedly a daunting one. We have very little evidence in relation to this and so it is unclear what, in reality, the reaction from sponsors would be and the effect it would have. Indeed, the main frame of reference that we have is Tom Daley, who actually saw his sponsorship earnings increase significantly after he came out.

41.In the US, leading sports brands have taken significant steps to show their support for gay athletes. Adidas has amended its endorsement contracts to ensure against cancellations or changes should an athlete come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Nike also cancelled its endorsement contract with the Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao, and stopped selling all Pacquiao-branded merchandise following derogatory comments he made about homosexuality in a television interview—an act that stands in stark contrast to the BBC allowing Tyson Fury’s name to be put forward for Sports Personality of the Year in 2015.53 In Australia, Skins, the leading compression sportswear brand, has created the Rainbow Round of Sport, using the rainbow laces campaign created by Stonewall, to encourage all leading sportsmen and women to show their support for gay, lesbian and transgender athletes.54

42.The main corporate sponsors have a duty to assure sportspeople that they will not lose their sponsorship as a direct result of coming out. Major sponsors should come together to launch an initiative in the UK to make clear that, should any sportsperson wish to come out, they will have their support.


43.Campaigns can make a real difference. Racism within sport, and particularly in football, while not eradicated is no longer as prevalent as it once was and this situation has improved immeasurably since the 1980s. We consider that high-profile, cohesive and long-running campaigns such as ‘Show Racism the Red Card’ and ‘Kick It Out’ have had a significant role to play in this.

44.We acknowledge the work and impact of Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces initiative, its national campaign to tackle homophobia in football. Stonewall sent rainbow laces to every professional football player in England to wear in support of the campaign. In 2014, 75% of Premier League teams and 75 clubs wore rainbow laces and the campaign achieved national media coverage, with an estimated reach of 30% among the general public and 67% of football fans.55

45.However, while the Rainbow Laces campaign has been significant in engaging fans and raising awareness, further support to this campaign should be given by national governing bodies, especially as it takes steps to expand to other sports beyond just football. We agree with the assertion made by Paul Twocock, Head of Campaigns at Stonewall, that sports industry leaders should ‘own the campaign’. Stonewall told us that while their campaigns have a positive impact on those who see them, their reach can be limited. We heard that a recent campaign weekend, while having a positive impact on those aware of it, was only seen by 14% of the population—only one in five of whom were sports fans.

46.We recommend that national governing bodies commit funds and resources to supporting further and more visible interventions as part of the Rainbow Laces campaign. This should incorporate television and cinema advertisements, screens at football matches and outside advertising such as bus-stop advertisements. This must be a sustained effort over a significant period of time, rather than a short-term commitment.

47.We heard how ‘straight allies’ within sport wield great influence on attitudes and the capacity for change. Stonewall told us that having Arsenal players speak out as such as part of their Rainbow Laces campaign ensured that they had a huge impact and raised awareness with new audiences. We believe that if more high-profile footballers took part in a campaign in which they actively spoke out on an anti-homophobic agenda, then this would be very powerful. Paul Twocock, told us how it was ‘essential’ to have such support and told us that:

it is a really crucial part of the Rainbow Laces campaign, seeing many high-profile football and rugby players during the campaign weekend we held at the end of November, making clear that they supported the campaign visibly, that visible commitment, the visible commitment from leaders in sport, from the Premier League and the Rugby Football Union, that is all vital to start creating the change.

We did some spot evidence after that campaign weekend in November that demonstrated those people that saw the campaign; there was a shift in their attitude just from that one experience.56

48.We believe that the FA, in particular, should encourage the participation of straight players in education programmes and campaigns and encourage them to champion the cause.

Training and Education

49.It is clear that further training and education needs to be implemented across all levels of sport. We particularly see the need for this at grassroots sport level; an area where homophobia can appear to go unaddressed. In order to determine the best steps forwards, national governing bodies should undertake extensive research to determine the key causes of the issues. National governing bodies need to understand why homophobic abuse is so commonplace and why participation rates are so low in order to understand how best to tackle the problem. In order best to work with grassroots clubs, national governing bodies should produce targeted guidance and training at these levels. We would encourage the introduction of a toolkit for clubs and recommend that national governing bodies partner with relevant organisations such as Stonewall in order to produce, targeted, sensitive and common sense advice. As the largest and wealthiest governing body, the FA should take the lead on the implementation of further training programmes. The issue has not been addressed satisfactorily by the FA up to this point and immediate action is required to change the culture.

50.Training should be available for all staff at all levels which should incorporate both educational as well as practical training. We recognise that homophobic language is often prevalent within grassroots sports and at coaching level; educational programmes should make clear why this is not acceptable. Additionally, training should advise staff on how to both recognise and deal with homophobic abuse where it occurs. This should be available to all, incorporating coaches, match officials and stewards. It is especially important that national governing bodies make clear to stewards that they will be supported when confronting and reporting homophobia. Should stewards face backlash from fans, this should be dealt with in the same way as abuse directed at players, with a zero-tolerance approach.

51.It should be made clear that match officials should have a duty to report and document any kind of abuse at all levels. This should not just apply to officials in the professional leagues who hear abuse from spectators but should filter down to youth level; for example, if officials hear homophobic terms used by parents.

52.A zero-tolerance approach to the use of all homophobic language and behaviours should be implemented and standardised sanctions should be implemented across all sports. It appears that sanctions are all too often addressed at the discretion of the club or governing body involved. A tougher approach across the board would go some way towards sending a clear message that the issue will no longer be ignored.

46 Q 177

47 (HIS0021) Proud Canaries

48 Westminster Hall Debate, Homophobia in Sport, HC Deb, 30 November 2016, Column 623WH

49 Q 177

51 Q 183

52 Q 104

55 (HIS0031) Stonewall

56 Q 175

10 February 2017