The River delves into the sports world to discover the inconvenient truth of homophobia.
Campaigns like Kick It Out have been working on dispelling racism in British sport for many years now and, while the past year has been marred by a couple of large scale cases, we have come a long way since the days of John Barnes having bananas hurled at him in the Merseyside derby.
It is even more of a wonder then that much of sport is still being played in the dark ages when it comes to homophobia and transphobia, especially when homophobia is considered to be one of the main causes of teenage suicide and assault.
Robert Artlett, a first-year dance and drama student at Kingston University and member of the Kingston Cougars cheerleading squad, refuses to suffer in silence but says that it is difficult being the only openly gay member of the sports society.
Suffer in silence
“If you’re just going to silently suffer then people aren’t ever going to know how you truly feel. I think that’s genuinely the problem. Sometimes I do feel isolated though. It doesn’t really feel like there is anyone I can relate to at times.”
Artlett, 21, has been surprised at how accepting KU sportsmen and women have been, having experienced homophobia through school and college, but also warns that sports sides have a duty to create an environment where people feel comfortable coming out.
“I was actually really shocked because the boys in the sports society are actually really encouraging of it all. I used to run and play basketball and boys would turn round and say ‘its not fair, he shouldn’t be allowed to play like that because he’s gay,’ but I’m just a normal person.
“There’s always a big commotion when someone comes out, with the changing rooms and everything. I’ve met a lot of boys who say they wouldn’t do sports because it’s a lot of hassle. It feels like you can’t be in that sort of world and be accepted.”
Just two years ago the FA scrapped plans for a campaign video against homophobia after they failed to get any big names involved, and afterwards Professional Footballers Association chief Gordon Taylor said: “They wanted one player at every club and the Premier League didn’t think it was a big enough issue.”
Even now, despite the inception of the Government Equalities Office (GEO) Charter on Homophobia and Transphobia in Sport, clubs are dragging their heels to get involved in the Football v Homophobia campaign and sportsmen are still unwilling to feature in educational videos.
Looking to the future
Justin Fashanu remains Britain’s only ever openly gay footballer, and his condemnation and later suicide have left a mark on our national sport to the point where it seems unlikely that we will see more openly gay players in the foreseeable future.
More recently the abuse suffered by former KU student Graeme Le Saux from fans and fellow professionals has underlined how little the game has moved on.
Le Saux is in fact not gay, but he was the subject of homophobic abuse largely due to his intellectualism, lack of womanising and alcoholism. His suffering has no doubt had an ugly effect on the confidence of gay sportsmen to be open about their sexuality.
It might be unfair to tar all sports with the same brush.
Out and proud
Former Welsh international rugby player Gareth Thomas came out in 2009 and has received only praise for the way he has handled himself, but if any sport has a problem then it is a problem for all of us.
London are currently bidding to host the 2018 Gay Games, the largest sporting event in the world. Perhaps a successful bid might help push the rest of British sport into the 21st century.
Sport should be accessible to everyone and, even if you are not interested in sport, we must recognise how big a part sport can play in changing the views of any society. So it really is a must that we strive for absolute equality in every sport.
It is within all of our best interests to accommodate everyone into our sports. Imagine Welsh rugby without Gareth Thomas, or English cricket without Steven Davis. It’s the whole sport that would suffer.
Read George Wright's comment piece here.