Lengthy stadium bans should be issued to those guilty of homophobic behaviour, a report published by a committee of MPs has concluded, while warning football clubs they must do more to combat the issue.
In 2012, the former Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report on racism in sport said that homophobia was emerging as a “bigger problem in football than racism and other forms of discrimination”.
A subsequent Homophobia in Sport report issued by the committee this Sunday said: “Football clubs, in particular, are not doing enough and should take a tougher approach, issuing immediate one- to two-year bans in the first instance to indicate clearly that homophobic behaviour will not be tolerated.”
There are currently no openly gay top-level footballers. The sole example of a high-profile footballer in England coming out is Justin Fashanu, a former Norwich City and Nottingham Forest striker who suffered discrimination within clubs as well as from spectators and committed suicide eight years after going public with his sexuality.
A recent survey conducted by Stonewall, a prominent LGBT rights charity, reported that 72% of football fans have heard homophobic abuse in the form of chanting or otherwise at matches. It also found 22% of fans aged 18 to 24 would feel uncomfortable if a player for the club they supported came out.
FA chairman Greg Clarke stated last year that he would not advise gay footballers to make their sexuality public in the current climate. But in a more recent interview with the Times, he suggested a “synchronised” coming out of multiple players at the beginning of the footballing season, where “the crowds are happy [and] the sun is shining.”
“Football must implement no-nonsense approach to homophobia”
Damian Collins MP, chair of the CMS committee, said in Sunday’s report: “From the evidence we have received in this inquiry, we believe that there are many gay athletes who have not come out, because they are frightened of the impact this decision will have on their careers, and the lives of the people they love. That is not acceptable and should not be tolerated.
“Coming out is a personal and private decision and no sportsperson should feel under pressure or feel ‘forced’ to come out, but sports authorities must create an environment, in the stadium and the locker room, where players and athletes at all levels feel it is a choice they can make, and that they will be supported and accepted if they do.
He added: “More needs to be done by the authorities to address both the overt and latent homophobia that exists within sport.
“Sports clubs are responsible for the well-being of their players: coaches and managers must make it clear that homophobic language cannot be used without comment or redress, just as they should not allow racist behaviour to go without reprimand.
“Sanctions appear to be left to the discretion of the club or governing body involved: a zero-tolerance approach to the use of all homophobic language and behaviours must be implemented with standardised sanctions across all sports. This tougher approach across the board would go some way towards sending a clear message that the issue will no longer be ignored.
“The main corporate sponsors also have a duty to assure sportspeople that they will not lose their sponsorship as a 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.”
What does the Culture, Media and Sport committee do?
The Culture, Media and Sport committee, chaired by MP Damian Collins, monitors the policy, administration and spending of sports authorities and makes recommendations to the government.
It comprises 11 MPs, five Conservative, four Labour and one SNP, and among other issues being examined are ‘fake news’, sports stadia accessibility and the impact of Brexit on creative industries and tourism.
It gathered on Thursday to debate a vote of no confidence in the FA’s ability to self-reform.
Summoned to give evidence at the House of Commons this week was Clarke, who himself said prior to the debate that he would resign should the government not back his reform proposals.
The committee, as well as the five former FA executives who published a critical open letter last year, have been outspoken in its opinion that football’s governing body lacks diversity, transparency and the ability to stand up to the Premier League and its financial influence.
Beyond Thursday’s debate, sports minister Tracey Crouch will assess whether the FA has adequately restructured its council by April; the outcome of said assessment will have an effect on access to £30 million in public funding.
The committee’s report also says it has queried the judgement of executives who allowed the inclusion of Tyson Fury in the shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award but positively highlighted an example of good practice within rugby. In November 2014, Welsh international rugby referee Nigel Owens was subjected to “foul-mouthed, racist, homophobic abuse” at Twickenham; the two fans involved were banned for two years and ordered to pay £1,000 to a charity of Owens’ choice.