Only a Game? - Homophobia is more cancerous than racism

Apr 1981: Portrait of Justin Fashanu of Norwich City. \ Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK /Allsport
Apr 1981: Portrait of Justin Fashanu of Norwich City. \ Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK /Allsport

Only the most ignorant, vile and disgusting of people would try and justify the alleged racist abuse endured by black England U21 players when they played Serbia in Belgrade earlier this week.

Racism cannot be and should not be trivialised but government research suggests that a much more sinister problem exists and is festering away in football grounds all over the country.

Homophobia exists in all walks of life, not just football. However, the fact that in 2012 there are no openly gay professional footballers, of which there are undeniably many, proves that football remains just as hostile towards homosexual players and homosexual fans as it was 30 thirty years ago.

It might come as an awful shock to those ignorant enough to subscribe to stereotypes, but some homosexuals enjoy playing and watching football just as much as some heterosexuals.

It’s terribly naive to believe that there is not one gay footballer in Ireland, England, Wales or Scotland. To bring it closer to home, there’s bound to have been gay men who have played for local football teams in Derry but there’s a reason we don’t know for sure; it’s because gay men are made to feel ashamed of their sexuality.

It’s no secret why gay men are afraid to ‘come out’ in football. In 1990 Justin Fashanu revealed that he was gay when the Sun newspaper ran an exclusive interview with him with the headline ‘£1 million football star - I AM GAY’.

Fashanu suffered years of discrimination and ended up taking his own life in 1998 after a 17 year-old American boy alleged that the football star had sexually assaulted him.

Even in a country as progressive and as liberal as Germany, there are no openly gay footballers.

The Mayor of Berlin and Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle are openly gay but still, footballers feel that they have too much to lose by revealing their sexuality.

Football is a sport filled to the brim with machismo and masculinity but that shouldn’t mean that gay men cannot live their lives openly without fear of attack or prejudice.

The only way homophobia can ever be erased is by challenging it where ever it rears its ugly head.

A brave footballer rocked the world of German football when he lifted the lid on the homophobia in the domestic game and prejudice suffered by homosexual players.

Gay footballers are so afraid of what team mates, fans and the public might think if they were to openly announce their sexuality that it took the journalist interviewing the footballer in Germany almost a year to convince him to talk.

As eggs are eggs, there will always be gay men in football and simply choosing to ignore that fact is ridiculous.

If a player is good enough to be in the team and if he works hard then his sexuality shouldn’t matter.

As I said earlier, homophobia is not exclusive to football.

Earlier this week boxer Tyson Fury was forced to issue an apology after he made abusive comments about the British and Commonwealth champion David Price – and for a tweet posted on his timeline which said “don’t like gays should all b shot dead”.

Fury is already facing possible action from the British Boxing Board of Control after posting a video on Twitter which said: “David Price, I’m going to put you in intensive care, that’s for sure mate. And you know your gay lover Tony Bellew? He’s got to fight me in between the rounds as well. I want the two of you, you pair of tossers.”

This kind of flippant attitude towards homosexuality is wrong.

It’s not funny and cannot in any way be justified at all.

Many other sports including boxing, rugby and hurling have seen high profile sports men reveal their true sexuality.

Some choose to ‘come out’ when they have retired from sport but others like Puerto Rican boxer Orlando Cruz feel that they can exist as gay sportsmen and compete effectively at the same time.

The respective football associations have carried out commendable work in their battle against racism. Now it’s time that they start focusing their attention on the cancer that is homophobia.

They need to work towards creating an atmosphere where gay men can live freely without fear of prejudice or discrimination.