Culture change needed in football say MPs.
The Culture, Media and Sport Committee called for a “zero tolerance” approach to homophobic abuse at all levels of sport – but said attitudes were particularly bad in the footballing world.
A Homophobia in Sport report, issued today, addressed concerns of sport’s overall ability to deal with homophobia, with committee chair Damian Collins MP noting: “More needs to be done by the authorities to address both the over and latent homophobia that exists within sport.
“Coming out is a personal and private decision and no sportsperson should feel under pressure or feel ‘forced’ to come out, but sports authorities must create an environment, in the stadium and the locker room, where players and athletes at all levels feel it is a choice they can make, and that they will be supported and accepted if they do.”
He added: “Sports clubs are responsible for the well-being of their players: coaches and managers must make it clear that homophobic language cannot be used without comment or redress, just as they should not allow racist behaviour to go without reprimand.
“Sanctions appear to be left to the discretion of the club or governing body involved: a zero-tolerance approach to the use of all homophobic language and behaviours must be implemented with standardised sanctions across all sports. This tougher approach across the board would go some way towards sending a clear message that the issue will no longer be ignored.
“The main corporate sponsors also have a duty to assure sportspeople that they will not lose their sponsorship as a result of coming out. Major sponsors should come together to launch an initiative in the UK to make clear that, should any sportsperson wish to come out, they will have their support.”
Referring to surveys which suggested that 72% of football fans had heard homophobic abuse at matches, the committee said it was “concerned” language of this kind was not taken seriously enough and was too often dismissed as “banter” despite the damaging effect.
It warned it was “unacceptable” for sports coaches and managers to allow homophobic comments between players in the dressing room to pass “without comment or redress”.
Clubs should treat such language as severely as racist behaviour, the cross-party committee said.
Football clubs should also take a tougher approach, including one- and two-year bans for fans’ first offences. Match officials should have a duty to report and document any homophobic abuse, whether from professional players in a top-tier match or parents on the touchline of a youth game.
There are currently no openly gay top-level footballers in the UK.