Blog: Will homophobia continue to blight football?

Football is a game which is said to unite all ethnicities, colours, faiths and gender distinctions. It is the world’s most popular sport which has cornered all but a few significant markets globally. It is the one platform upon which Israeli’s and Palestinians can compete against one another with all hostility temporarily suspended. Its appeal, we assume, is universal. We would be wrong to assume as such.

Taboos still remain. The most prominent one left in football is homosexuality, an issue which Mario Gomez has admirably brought back to the forefront of public attention in Germany by urging gay players to go public. “They would play as though they had been liberated,” he said. “Being gay should no longer be a taboo topic.”

His voice so far is the lonely one of reason amidst a maelstrom of resentment, homophobia and fear. Football, it is too often argued, is a sport with an extremely macho masculine culture. Imagine the dressing room into which a homosexual footballer walks. We are constantly told that such a dressing room would be one of deep insecurity, suspicion and resentment. The openly gay player would struggle to cope in such an environment. And then imagine the vitriol he would receive at the hands of a crowd baying for blood. His career would instantly be ruined. Phillip Lahm, Germany’s captain at the 2010 World Cup, conveyed such a view: “A player who chooses to out himself has to carry out his job in front of tens of thousands of spectators.”

I for one am appalled that such a dim view of footballers and football fans around the world still exists. In a society where our rock stars, film stars, politicians and academics’ sexualities are rendered insignificant by all but the most loathsomely intrusive gossip magazine, why is it that we still believe that being homosexual is incompatible with being a successful professional footballer? Are we as fans so boneheaded as to abuse footballers for the ‘crime’ of their sexuality, as Lahm’s comments infers?

I am an optimist. Whilst not naive enough to believe that other malignant issues such as racism have been completely kicked into touch, I do believe that as a society football has progressed. We are now, and have long since been, ready to accept that sexuality is irrelevant. The time has come to annul the argument that any player who openly admits their homosexuality will instantly ruin their career for the lie that it is. Surely to live a lie, to refuse to openly admit one’s feelings, is more damaging to a person’s health than making their feelings public. Robert Enke’s tragic suicide owing to depression kept hidden from the outside world attests to this.

Unsurprisingly, media advisors such as Max Clifford have claimed to have advised gay footballers to keep the truth a secret, thereby insinuating that their sexual orientation is sordid, something inferior, a disease. Football should not associate itself with such philistine views.

This is why Mario Gomez must be commended for his views. A footballer free from the worries placed upon him by secrecy will become a better footballer and fans will consequently admire him for his performances. Football likes to think of itself as the ‘Beautiful Game’, played and watched worldwide. However this ugly repression of homosexuality blights it. Gomez’s comments point to a more optimistic future. Football must be ready to liberate itself from its homophobia.

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