Football clubs across the country will once again be showing their support for the annual Rainbow Laces campaign during this week’s round of fixtures to raise awareness and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.
According to campaign organisers Stonewall, four out of 10 LGBTQ+ people don’t feel like sport is a welcoming place and the Rainbow Laces initiative aims to reverse that trend.
Clubs throughout the football league have already shown their support in various ways and this week Premier League sides will do the same by donning a rainbow-coloured captain’s armband, wearing rainbow-coloured laces and having LED perimeter boards at all grounds highlighting the campaign. There will also be Rainbow Laces ball plinths, handshake boards and substitute boards.
— Burnley FC (@BurnleyOfficial) December 1, 2021
According to the PFA, the campaign in 2018 reached over 12 million people as those throughout the industry continue to strive to make football a more inviting place for the LGBTQ+ community.
However, there are still problems. Stonewall also report that 20% of sports fans think anti-LGBTQ+ language is “harmless if it’s just meant as banter”, while 33% of LGTBQ+ people who participate or follow sport are not out to anyone in their sporting life. Just this week, fans have been condemned for homophobic chanting aimed at Crystal Palace’s on-loan Chelsea midfielder Conor Gallagher.
To date, former Norwich City forward Justin Fashanu remains the only player to have openly come out as gay while still playing men’s football in this country, with Stonewall’s former Sports Campaign Manager (now Diversity and Inclusion Officer at The FA) Jehmeil Lemonius suggesting the “witch-hunt” focus on having an openly gay player hinders people’s confidence to speak out.
“For many athletes, becoming a professional has been their primary goal and their sole focus their whole lives. When the stakes are high and it feels like your career is in the balance, you just want to play football. Your identity as an LGBT person might feel less important at that time,” Lemonius, who also captains Stonewall FC – the country’s first gay football team, in the Middlesex County Premiership Division – told the PFA in 2019.
“Sports as a whole has its challenges, and outside football, there are still no openly gay or bi males within Premiership rugby either. The media tend to focus on the idea of ‘the first gay player to come out,’ and it becomes almost a witch-hunt.
“We know that one player coming out is not going to solve the issue, and there will be lots of barriers ahead. For us, it’s crucial to challenge some of the unhelpful cultures that are currently in place.
🗣 "Football is an inclusive sport, everybody is welcome."
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) December 1, 2021
“To do this, we need to work with sporting organisations to foster an inclusive environment so players who might be gay, bi or questioning their sexual orientation will feel comfortable coming out. While a male player coming out would be incredible in terms of visibility, we understand what a personal and brave decision that would be.”
Getting involved in the campaign can be as simple as wearing something rainbow-coloured or donating to fundraising events. Either way, as Lemonius explains, you don’t have to be a part of the LGBT+ community to show your support.
“The first step is to wear the Rainbow Laces. A lot of people still don’t understand the history of the laces and what it means to wear them,” he added. “It doesn’t mean you’re gay, but shows that you support LGBT inclusion and that you would support your teammates if they happened to be gay, bi or questioning their sexuality.
“If you can’t wear the laces, you can share your stories of how you support LGBT inclusion. Most people have an LGBT relative, friend or colleague, so share the experiences that you’ve had with that person and how you’ve supported them. Storytelling and visible displays of support are powerful and can encourage others to step up as an ally and support their family, friends, colleagues and teammates who might be LGBT.”
In 2020 the Premier League announced a new two-year “strategic partnership” with Stonewall, reinforcing its commitment to the cause.
“We and our clubs play an important role in encouraging people to support the LGBTQ+ community,” Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters said.
We’re proud to support Stonewall’s #RainbowLaces campaign
Football is for everyone, which is why it’s so important to speak out against discrimination and in support of the LGBTQ+ community 🏳️🌈
— Premier League (@premierleague) November 25, 2021
“During the Rainbow Laces campaign, we showcase the wide variety of projects and initiatives being conducted all year round to highlight that equality and inclusion are central to everything we do.
“We will continue to ensure that every single Premier League environment is inclusive to all, as well as reinforcing there is no place for discrimination of any kind, wherever it takes place, with those found guilty facing permanent League-wide bans.”