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Last Updated: Friday, 11 November 2005, 11:59 GMT
Why are there no openly gay footballers?
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The Magazine answers...

Jermain Defoe celebrates
Would the adulation remain if the player was gay?
Liverpool striker Djibril Cisse has vowed not to kiss his team-mates after scoring a goal for fear of being thought of as gay. As football authorities make tackling homophobia a priority, why are there no openly homosexual players?

Figures from politics and showbiz come out and few people bat an eyelid, but the most popular sports remain a bastion for heterosexuals.

The decision of any well-known players in football, rugby or cricket to come out is no-one else's to make, but the football authorities have acknowledged the working environment could be a barrier to them being honest.

The Football Association held its first "homophobia summit" this week to launch a strategy aimed at dealing with anti-gay abuse regularly heard on the terraces and occasionally on the pitch. A Hull City supporter was recently convicted and fined after taunting Brighton fans.

I've had players over the years who were single and read books and so others said they must be gay
Alan Smith
Former football manager
But Cisse's comments, which were probably meant as light-hearted fun, suggest there is some way to go before gay players feel sufficiently comfortable to come out.

Among 4,000 professional footballers, it would be impossible for some not to be gay, says Alan Smith, who managed Crystal Palace and Wycombe Wanderers. He thinks there are probably fewer than in the rest of society because the potential abuse would put young gay men off pursuing football as a career.

"Football is a profession that doesn't allow anyone to be different," he says. "I've had players over the years who were single and read books and so others said they must be gay.

"I suspect it may have bothered them but they got on with it because that's what they wanted to do.

"I think being openly gay would be something very difficult to live with in football."

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Players are crude about it, he says, with comments like "shirt-lifter" commonly made as a way to fit into a macho culture.

"You can get drunk and beat up your wife and that's quite acceptable, but if someone were to say 'I'm gay', it's considered awful. It's ridiculous."

Former Ireland international Tony Cascarino says coming out could end a player's career and his life would be a misery, and the experience of the UK's only openly gay player to date backs up that claim.

Justin Fashanu, who played for Norwich, Nottingham Forest and Hearts, endured abuse after coming out in 1990. After his suicide eight years later, the coroner said the prejudices he experienced, plus the sexual assault charge he was facing at the time of his death, probably overwhelmed him.

Cover-up

Maybe it's no surprise to hear that gay players apparently go to great lengths to try to hide their sexuality. PR guru Max Clifford has claimed he was approached twice by major clubs to help make players present a "straight" image.

Justin Fashanu
Fashanu was the first black 1m footballer
But players lower down the leagues face greater abuse, says Richard Columbell of the Gay Football Supporters Network, because the corporate atmosphere of the Premiership makes it more politically-correct.

What the FA is doing is a start, he says, but the clubs must follow their lead.

"I think football managers need to say it doesn't matter and clubs need to say it will be tackled in the same way as racist or sexist language.

"You can't change what people think but you can change what they are allowed to do."

If you ask the traditional footballer supporter or anyone involved they will say footballers are not gay
Martin Perry
Chief executive
Brighton and Hove Albion

Despite the FA's stated aims, the issue appears taboo among managers. When BBC Radio Five Live wrote to the 20 Premier League managers with three questions about homophobia, all 20 refused to answer.

It seems the UK may be waiting a few more years before players emerge from the "closet", but there is a precedent to be found in Australia.

Ian Roberts, who played one of the world's toughest sports, rugby league, came out in 1994, six years before he retired. The reaction, he says, was generally positive.


Your comments:

With regards to the chanting: Fans will chant whether the player is fat/tall/short/gay whatever they can find to shout about. Only when society fully accept gay people will they not find it worth shouting about, and hence it will end.
Rob, London

Gay or not Gay, what does it matter in football?. The real topics for debate should be regarding players salaries, the national team manager and the outrageous price of the new Wembley stadium.
Jim Mardle, Portsmouth

How about Elton John uses his influence at Watford Football Club to encourage the signing of openly gay players to the team?
Chris B, Bury St Edmunds

I'm gay and I play in a football team in quite a rough league in London. I don't broadcast my sexuality but I wouldn't deny it either if I was asked. I am sure some of my team-mates would feel uncomfortable in the showers if they knew I was gay, however silly it is for them to think like that. So Campbell Tang actually raises a valid point. Having said that, if straight men feel uncomfortable, it's their problem and they should grow up.
Kevin, London

Some years back during my naval service there were known gays serving aboard ships, believe me navy ships are cramped and the showers back then even more so, I dont recall any issues about guys being uncomfortable using the showers whilst a gay guy was in them, could it have been that people were being mature and only worrying that the guy could do his job ?.
Alan, Rainham Essex

From what I've noticed from sitting on the terraces is that people are very casual towards it and the sad thing is that they seem to expect it. Know one appears to bat an eyelid if a fan shouts out poof, but yet they get so angry about the reactions to the England players in Spain.
David Lord, Stockport

There is a gay rugby club in London called King's Cross Steelers and having played against them a number of times I can honestly say that nobody on our team cared a less about the fact that they were gay.
James, London, UK

Campbell Tang's comment is a perfect example of the petty, prejudiced, schoolboy-level fears which still abound in this country - not just in football. What a shame such immaturity has been considered constructive enough to be included here.
Keith Griffiths, London

By far the most admirable homosexuals that I know have never "came out" in public, since they believe their sexuality to be a private matter, which they will act on however they choose to in private. They also frown upon the types promoting "queer agendas," essentially promiscuity. I see no problem with footballers or anyone else keeping their relationships with others private if they so wish. Why are these interfering individuals interested?
Jack Peter Gunning, Oxford

The comment by Campbell Tang is the most ridiculous I've ever heard. Just because someone is gay doesn't mean they are likely to jump on just anyone. Half my cricket teammates at uni were/are gay and it didn't affect anyone at all. Of course, we are all women so maybe we're a tad more reasonable about these things? I don't know, all I know is it's not an issue for us.
Jo, UK

It's nice to see an article about this, since it's something which (among those of us who are tolerant) people are sickened by - the casual homophobia, sexism and even racism. Yes, there are many football fans who I'm sure aren't homophobic. But regrettably, the ones who shout loudest ARE. Indeed, it is a fairly deep wound to the various claims that the government etc have made about Britain being tolerant that this is an issue. From my perspective, sports-related homophobic insults (grounded in my lack of sporting prowess and liking for books) begun at around 11 years old in school games classes, and only really ended when my social group consisted mostly of people who had no interest in sport.
Nick, Stirling, Scotland

This is the most irrelevant issue in sport today. Not only should it not matter if a sportsperson is homosexual, it shouldn't matter if they're heterosexual. It's sport, not sex.
Jo, Canberra

The best illustration of how far away from a time when gay footballers can come out is the recent comment from Dean Holdsworth, PFA Secretary, that homophobia in football is not worth debating
Peter, Manchester, UK

I think we need another pioneer such as Justin Fashanu. I think the reception today would be more tolerant though, realistically he would still suffer abuse from a small minded few. The only way for tolerance to be achieved is to tackle the problem head on and give people the chance to show that they can be tolerant. Unfortunately, that will take a great deal of bravery on the part of the next pioneer. I'm convinced this is a problem which can be overcome through courage, persistence and tolerance.
Craig, Reading

Football is currently stuck in the dark ages when it comes to attitude towards gay footballers. I am sure that there are gay footballers in the Premiership and it is their responsibility to set a precedent sooner rather than later and come out of the closet. It will be difficult at first but the only way to change attitudes is to make a stand. The club managers and staff also have a responsibility but most of all so do the fans. Fear of retribution is a poor excuse - gay people have overcome bigger obstacles than this in the past.
Gavin, Brentwood, UK

The narrow minded bigots can't attack ethnic minorities any more so they pick on a group that does not have the same protection. It must be tough for them to consider a gay person might be fitter and better at football than them!
Paul, London

If a player admitted to being gay, would his team-mates still feel comfortable near him in the showers? I doubt it.
Campbell Tang, Stockton-on-Tees




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