Over the Weekend, players in all leagues will be encouraged to wear rainbow laces, in support of the ‘stonewall’ campaign. This aims to give the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual equal rights, and use football as a pedestal for their idealism.
In many ways, this is a very strange decision. Football is not known as a sport of equality and has had issues with racism, and particularly homophobia in the past. Justin Fashanu, one of the first, and very few footballers to come out, struggled with both of these, even from his own brother. In 1998, Fashanu took his own life, struggling to cope with the constant abuse and tabloid rumours.
After a time of over 13 years when no professional footballer was openly gay, Robbie Rogers came out earlier this year. However, even the former Leeds United winger felt that he had to retire, due to the ‘pack mentality’ in the sport. However, he soon reversed his decision and is now playing for LA Galaxy in the MLS.
The slogan behind the campaign is ‘right behind gay footballers’ and is in partnership with bookmakers Paddy Power. The idea is to promote a fundamental change in the psyche of both football players and fans. They hope to abolish the barrier between homosexuality and the sporting world, hopefully creating more chances for gay footballers to come out or decide to play.
Paddy Power have led the campaign with a billboard saying, ‘5000 professional footballers in the UK and none of them are gay. What are the odds on that?’ Stonewall took the decision to bring in Paddy Power, presumably to make them feel more respected in the world of football. They have tried campaigns previously, for example a separate ‘football vs. homophobia campaign started earlier this year’, but unfortunately only 29 out of the possible 92 Football and Premier League clubs wished to participate.
Many celebrities and professionals have shown their support for the initiative. Controversial QPR midfielder Joey Barton, Stephen Fry and Labour Party leader Ed Miliband have stated their ambition for the campaign, which looks to build momentum over the week. However many club’s responses to the initiative have been mediocre, and it is unsure whether the majority will take part.
Personally, I hope the taboo that is homosexuality in sport is broken and that anyone feels comfortable being who they are on the pitch. Whether this will happen any time soon is unlikely, especially seeing as many clubs don’t even wish to change their laces in support of the movement. Hopefully this ‘pack mentality’ which Rogers referred will be kicked out of the game sooner rather than later.