Stonewall started the Rainbow Laces campaign to provide a supportive environment for any LGBTQ+ athletes, but are campaigns and rainbows enough to change the fundamentals of a sport’s environment?
Every year in December, the Premier League participates in the Rainbow Laces campaign. The league stands up for the rights of LGBTQ+ athletes by participating in the campaign. Stonewall created the Rainbow Laces campaign as a step in the fight against homophobia in football. The idea behind the campaign is for individuals to wear rainbow laces while doing something active. This effort is there to support LGBTQ+ footballers and to promote equality and diversity in the Premier League.
Premier League players and managers show their support by either wearing rainbow laces or a rainbow decorated captains’ band. The English league usually goes all out for the campaign, creating Rainbow Lace’s pitch flags, ball plinths, handshake boards, and substitute boards.
Even in this apparent welcoming and supportive environment, there are no openly gay footballers currently playing in England’s topflight league.
Andy Brennan is the first openly gay Australian male footballer. Brennan is currently playing for Green Gully SC in Melbourne. The 27-year-old came out in a social media post in 2019. He has subsequently said that the reaction has been amazing, he hasn’t received a negative response from anyone. Brennan explains that the lack of gay English footballers is due to the English football scene being more intimidating than other leagues.
Collin Martin came out in 2018 making him the only openly gay footballer to play in the US Major League Soccer. The American midfielder also came out via a social media post. Similarly, to Brennan, Martin stated that he did not receive any negative backlash after his announcement. Martin currently plays for the San Diego Loyal SC.
In 2011 Anton Hysen came out.He used to play for Utsiktens BK in the fourth division of the Swedish leagues. At the time he was the first gay footballer to play at club level. Originally Hysen said that he did not experience any negativity surrounding his decision. “It is completely strange, isn’t it? It’s all f****** up. Where the hell are all the others? No one is coming out”, Hysen told Offside magazine.
However, the truer response from the larger football fan bases could have been shielded by these player’s league positions. Hysen is currently without a football club, hopefully not due to his sexuality. While Brennan and Martin play in lower profile leagues. Somehow, I think the response to a prominent Premier League player coming out may evoke a different response from the various English fan bases, especially if the story of Justin Fashanu is anything to go by.
Its 2020 and still there are only a handful of openly gay footballers dotted across the globe, but none in any of the top five leagues in Europe. Is this just a strange coincidence or do our footballers not feel safe to come out in what appears to be a threateningly masculine atmosphere?
Regardless of the Stonewall campaign, there was a 12% increase in discrimination relating to sexual orientation in the 2018/19 year, according to Kick It Out.
This stat proves that there is still a stigma attached to the idea of a gay athlete, let alone a gay footballer. FIFA is not assisting to disrupt the narrative of football being a straight man’s sport by agreeing to allow a country such as Qatar to host a World Cup. Homosexuality is banned in Qatar, FIFA is blatantly proving that they do not care about any gay athletes they may have or fans.
These sentiments were expressed by Phuti Lekoloane, South Africa’s first openly gay soccer star in a recent interview with TimesLive. The 28-year-old stated that his coming out in 2015 was detrimental to his career. Lekoloane received negative backlash from teammates and coaches after his decision to live his truth. Currently playing for Makapanstad RFC, he further added that his hopes of representing his country shattered once he came out.
South Africa’s treatment of Lekoloane seems apt as the president of the time, Jacob Zuma, was seen laughing with Sepp Blatter after Blatter said: “I would say they should refrain from any sexual activities,” in response to how gay fans should act in Qatar. As a country with a history of injustice and discrimination, it seems hypocritical for South African’s to accept the ill-treatment of Lekoloane due to his sexual orientation. It is disheartening that individuals think a player’s sexuality has any bearing on their skill or ability as a footballer.
The comments under KickOff’s story about Phuti Lekoloane – an incredibly brave, openly gay footballer in South Africa – show how far we still have to go.
— Joe Crann (@YesWeCrann) March 31, 2020
The world is at its most tolerant and yet the sport is still bombarded with homophobic taunts and threats. No number of rainbow campaigns can negate the fact that homophobia is prevalent within the football arena. Even in 2020, there seems to be a long and tough road ahead for LGBTQ+ footballers.