Nearly three quarters of British football fans have heard homophobic abuse at a match during the last five years, according to new research from the UK’s leading lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) equality charity Stonewall.
The online study, which was carried out by ICM last month, was commissioned by Stonewall as part of its ‘Rainbow Laces’ campaign to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic attitudes in sport.
The research found several encouraging trends but also revealed that 18- to 24-year-olds are twice as likely as the overall group to say they would be embarrassed if their favourite player came out as gay (22 per cent compared to 12 per cent) and twice as likely to describe anti-LGBT language as “banter”.
Ruth Hunt, Stonewall’s chief executive, said: “While the majority of people see homophobic chants and abuse as a problem, and want to see sport become more welcoming of lesbian gay, bi and trans players and fans, there is a persistent minority who believe this sort of abuse is acceptable.
“These vocal few may be under the illusion that anti-LGBT language is harmless but it makes lesbian, gay, bi and trans fans and players feel unsafe, unwelcome and unable to be themselves.
“We need high-profile sports clubs and personalities to stand up as allies and help make sport everyone’s game by showing that homophobic abuse has no place in sport.”
As well as the survey’s key finding that 72 per cent of fans have witnessed homophobic abuse at games, it also more encouragingly found that nine in 10 fans across all the age groups would either be ‘proud’ or ‘neutral’ if their favourite player came out as gay.
It also showed that six in 10 fans think anti-LGBT language is a problem in sport, with young people twice as likely to describe it as a ‘big problem’.
While nearly two thirds of fans think sport’s organisations should do more to make LGBT people feel accepted, a spokesperson for Stonewall said that most of the governing bodies and clubs were doing a good job at fighting homophobia now, picking out Arsenal as an example of a club who have wholeheartedly supported the Rainbow Laces initiative.
The spokesperson said the real issue was “cultural”, which will inevitably take time to change, and said the big breakthrough would come when more role models from football and the major team sports stepped forward.
So far, only a handful of professional footballers have come out, with former Aston Villa and Germany midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger the only openly gay player to appear in the Premier League. He came out after his retirement.
It is a similar story in men’s cricket, rugby league and rugby union, whereas gay female athletes have been more ready to come out, as have athletes from individual sports.
The Stonewall spokesperson acknowledged that this might partly be to do with the ‘macho’ culture of the dressing room and team sports’ higher profiles and bigger fan bases.
The charity, in conjunction with a global campaign group called TeamPride, is planning a weekend of activities on November 26-27 to fight homophobia in sport, and is working with clubs and schools to build awareness of the issues affecting LGBT people.