The subject of equality and diversity in football has been grabbing headline attention again. With the resignation of Fabio Capello being wrapped around issues of alleged racism by England captain, John Terry, the spotlight is well and truly back on the role that football plays in promoting, but also in dealing with, aspects of discrimination. Much progress has been made by organisations such as “Kick it Out”, working alongside the major football organisations, to start to raise the issue of, and help find ways of dealing with, racism in football. More recently, such organisations have begun to expand their remit to consider the topic of homophobia in football and this has been greatly welcomed by those such as the Gay Football Supporters Network (GFSN). GFSN have been active in promoting the support and participation of gay men and women in football since 1989. Likewise, the Justin Campaign, established following the tragic suicide of Justin Fashanu, the world’s first openly gay footballer, highlights the issue of homophobia and works towards a future where the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in football is both accepted and celebrated. Such work has started to be supported by some top level players with Joey Barton, QPR midfielder, recently tweeting and speaking out about the issue on a BBC3 documentary
Against this backdrop, Leeds Metropolitan staff from the Institute for Health and Wellbeing and the Carnegie Faculty, led by myself, are joining co-applicants from nine other countries across Europe in submitting a bid entitled “Fundamental Rights in Sport – the Case of Sexual Orientation in Football across the European Union”. The proposal, which will be submitted to the European Commission, aims to gain an improved understanding of the roots of homophobic attitudes in football, and the forms that this might take, in order to develop more effective ways to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation in football. The project hopes to include not only higher league football but also wishes to consider the experiences and impact of homophobia in smaller, non-league clubs which may have far fewer resources to tackle discrimination even if the will is there to do so. The research team are also keen to include women’s football within the study, given the increased interest and participation in this in recent years and the fact that homophobia may present in very different ways in the women’s game and among supporters than within the men’s game.
It is exciting to recognise the opportunities that such a study might generate for contributing to the protection of gay people in football, tackling discrimination, and thereby promoting human rights across Europe.