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Wednesday, March 3, 1999 Published at 18:16 GMT

Anger over gay taunts

Robbie Fowler, no stranger to controversy, has been accused of misconduct

Players' union boss Gordon Taylor says Chelsea and England star Graeme Le Saux deserves sympathy after years of sexual taunting.

The BBC's Kevin Gearey reports on Graeme Le Saux's battle against sexual slurs
During Chelsea's match against Liverpool on Saturday Le Saux clashed with Robbie Fowler and both have since been charged with misconduct.

Le Saux, who is married with a young daughter, has suffered years of baseless claims about his alleged homosexuality.

Unwarranted reputation

The tag, which was first attached to the player when he was at Blackburn, reportedly stemmed from his bohemian and "unladdish" hobbies, which include art and antiques.

He once had a fracas on the pitch with his team-mate, down-to-earth Yorkshireman David Batty. Le Saux left Blackburn shortly afterwards.

[ image: Graeme LeSaux...fed up with taunts]
Graeme LeSaux...fed up with taunts
Television coverage of the Chelsea v Liverpool match showed Le Saux knocking Fowler to the ground with a blow to the head, an incident missed by referee Paul Durkin.

Earlier the Liverpool player could be seen making what appeared to be offensive gestures towards Le Saux.

The editor of the Gay Times, David Smith, told BBC News Online while Le Saux was not gay the "rule of averages" meant there must be many homosexual players in the Premiership and possibly several in the England squad.

'Football discourages gays'

But Mr Smith, an Arsenal fan, said the "pack mentality" of football tended to discourage gay teenagers, who preferred individual sports.

[ image: Britain's first openly gay footballer Justin Fashanu committed suicide last year]
Britain's first openly gay footballer Justin Fashanu committed suicide last year
Mr Smith said sport, and football in particular, seemed to be lagging behind other sectors in addressing homosexuality.

He said: "Nowadays there are many openly gay people in show business and even half a dozen gay MPs. Individual sports, such as tennis, do not have a problem with it."

"But, the late Justin Fashanu aside, football seems to be holding out."

Outrage! spokesman David Allison said he thought 10% of footballers were gay but said his organisation, which has in the past "outed" politicians and clergy, would not seek to out footballers unless they expressed homophobic views.

Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor said Le Saux had a quick temper but he added: "On this occasion he deserves some sympathy."

'Stop this provocation'

Taylor said: "He was provoked and from that point of view if it was a racist taunt we would want to eradicate it and I think we should look at what we can do to avoid the lad having to put up with this.

"If we can't stop it from supporters we should be able to stop it from players because clearly it presents a chance of damaging and ruining his career."

Taylor said: "He does have a family, they have a young daughter and I think it's something the FA needs to take into account.

Taylor said taunts, be they racist, sexual or whatever, were common in boxing, rugby, ice hockey and cricket, where the practice is called sledging.

Deliberate goading

He said the idea was to goad a player into losing his temper or letting his concentration slip.

"Sometimes players will latch onto something when they know a player is particularly sensitive and will react," he said.

[ image: French tennis star Amelie Mauresmo is openly lesbian]
French tennis star Amelie Mauresmo is openly lesbian
Piara Powar, a co-ordinator with the Kick It Out campaign, said racist abuse was more common but added: "Something similar also needs to happen in terms of other forms of abuse, whether it is over the question of someone's alleged sexuality or whatever."

The head of the government's football taskforce, David Mellor called for sledging to be stamped on and said: "The ridiculous situation where Fowler was waggling his backside at Le Saux and Le Saux protested and got a yellow card was not what the game is all about."

An FA spokeswoman said sexual taunting was included, along with racial abuse, in the FA's misconduct charge.

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