There’s something toxic about football. No, it isn’t anything to do with the game itself, but the people and structure surrounding it. For too long, LGBTQ+ people have been discriminated against, bullied, and exiled from the world’s sport. No big deal, you think? Think again. Rampant homophobia/transphobia may destroy the sport we know and love as the world progresses into a society shaping toward equality.
Phobias in Football
Some things are just downright irritating. If I had to make a list of things that irk me most, I’d say that the blatant abuse and discrimination of minority groups is right near the top. When the Premier League hosted the Rainbow Laces campaign near the end of November – built to highlight the acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community in sport – the acceptance was largely positive. Unfortunately, there are still large sections of the footballing community that refuse to accept social progress.
When Swansea City announced that they and AFC Bournemouth would be instituting a gender-neutral prefix option for fan purchases (tickets, merchandise, etc.), the backlash on social media was nothing short of astounding. “The world’s gone mad,” wrote one Twitter user, while another replied, “Why would you be proud of this?”
Let’s think about this logically.
Why would a simple ID option that does not align with the traditional male/female gender identities be upsetting? Never mind the fact that it would (and will not) affect anyone’s daily lives – besides the positive effects of acceptance towards those who identify as gender non-binary – but also consider what sport is at its core.
Sport, especially football, is a coming together of a community to work towards a common goal. When Swansea fans take the weekend trip to Liberty Stadium, they sing along with thousands of their peers as they urge their team towards victory. The degradation of a small portion of these fans is uncalled for and can only have negative effects in the short and long-term.
If you’ve ever watched a Mexican National Team match, you’ve heard the chant. It’s been a tradition for the fans for years and has drawn up a lot of controversy recently. The term puto has a very negative and hateful connotation towards gays in Mexican culture and FIFA has attempted to rid stadiums of the chant for years. Unfortunately, many figureheads within the Mexican federation are doing their best to protect the homophobic chant.
Mexico’s head coach, Juan Carlos Osorio, has defended the chant. “I don’t think the interpretation made internationally is right. I hope the Mexican federation will tell FIFA again that this doesn’t mean what people think it means.” I don’t claim to have studied Mexican culture down to a T, but I can tell you one thing – it is shameful that the leaders of this federation aren’t doing much to put an end to this hateful chant.Embed from Getty Images
Imagine this for a minute: You are someone who identifies as gay or lesbian and, being from Mexico and a massive football fan, you decide to attend a national team game. Though you may go along with the crowd and brush the chant off as “part of the game” or “no big deal”, it would undoubtedly have a negative effect on your psyche. A chant degrading the opposing goalkeeper by calling him a puto is surely implying that being gay is bad, no?
A Reflection of Society
“I never felt I could be myself and play football.” Gary Ginnaw is the player-manager of Charlton Invicta, the first LGBT-friendly football team to take the name of a Football League side. “I know what Sunday league teams are like: you go to the pub, people ask if you’ve got a girlfriend, or say: ‘Look at her, she’s fit.’ You’d feel uncomfortable being yourself,” recounted Ginnaw in an October Guardian article. Ginnaw didn’t want to play football throughout his prime because of this uncomfortableness around teammates.
While this instance is not (and should not) be interpreted as a negative stance towards most of the people who take part in football culture, it is important for everyone to listen and understand the plight of the gay player. Many people in the LGBTQ+ community feel that football isn’t for them because of the masculinity present within the crevices of it. Whether it’s homophobic abuse against Brighton & Hove Albion fans, or even Mexican supporters’ homophobic chants, it’s clear that football can do a better job to become a more welcoming community.
“As in much of society, men’s football has traditionally been dominated by people for whom perceived masculinity is paramount and who might regard LGBTQ+ people as somehow lesser or weaker, whether consciously or not. Things have moved on significantly in men’s football and society…but the reputation still persists, not least because discrimination and discriminatory attitudes remain.”
– Ashley Connick
The positivity of organizations like the Premier League taking the initiative to raise the awareness of these social issues should not be undermined, but there is still work to do. “The discourse around gender is sadly largely toxic,” says Ashley Connick, a cisgender bisexual Chelsea fan, “and sports reflects society.” Unfortunately, the backlash from anti-LGBTQ+ rights on tweets like this one from Swansea City seems to fester in the minds of the homophobic and transphobic, causing an outrage so severe and uncalled for.
We often think of the far-right-wing supporters of clubs in other parts of the world as vastly different from us, but how true is that? If the replies to an announcement done to solidify a fan base is met with extreme backlash, is the “westernized” football fan different from any other, in terms of political acumen? “People absolutely carry these views with them in life,” says Connick, “and the truly scary thing is how prevalent they are and how few people would regard their views…as problematic.” It is scary, and certainly a topic that must be addressed head-on by the world’s top football organizations. “The Rainbow Laces campaign is important, and has been more visible than ever this year,” says Ash, but “there’s still a lot more do, though.”
In conclusion, please take a pause when you scroll past or hear an anti-LGBTQ+ post, tweet, or comment. If you deem it safe and necessary, confront the offender in a non-violent fashion. It’s almost impossible to break down the entire concept of toxic masculinity in the structure of football, but confronting one person about it is at least a small step in the right direction. We need change – our society is moving towards that change, and football needs to follow.
It desperately needs to follow.