Stonewall/Premier League

Week 187 (13 - 19 May)

This week, the Premier League launched a new campaign with LGBT organisation Stonewall to reaffirm the importance of enforcing a zero tolerance approach to homophobia in sport.

The new initiative was launched by Premier League Executive Director Bill Bush on Monday, and builds on the Premier League’s existing partnership with Stonewall, which saw the league promote the charity’s Rainbow Laces anti-homophobia campaign last year.

The new campaign will see the Premier League and Stonewall working more closely with police to step up the enforcement of incidents of homophobia witnessed at football grounds. Like racist and religious abuse, homophobic abuse has been covered since 1991 by the Football Offences Act and there have been several prosecutions since then. But whilst there has been an acknowledged improvement in the situation, homophobic abuse is still a very real problem both in England and worldwide. Reflecting on Monday’s launch, Stonewall CEO Ruth Hunt said:

“We know most fans want LGBT people to feel included… But the barriers to this, such as homophobic chants, too often go unquestioned… What the Premier League has realised is that the women’s game is doing well, but the men’s game is still having some problems, and that those problems are quite complicated.”

Hunt also commended the efforts of the Premier League, saying:

“Of course the Premier League do so much work in the community making sure those young lads know that if they’ve got a gay teammate, they should be treated just as well as everybody else – so the Premier League has really taken the bull by the horns.”

In 1998, the tragic death of Justin Fashanu, the only footballer to be openly gay whilst playing in the Premier League, put the issue of homophobia firmly into the public eye. Nineteen years on and the Premier League has clearly made significant strides towards making football a more inclusive environment.

On Monday, Bill Bush said:

“All you need to do is like football and you are enormously welcome into our grounds. If you don’t want to extend that to a welcome to all of those around you, then you’re the one who is going to leave the stadium.”

Around 150 people attended Stonewall’s inaugural Rainbow Laces Summit at Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium on Monday, including FA chairman Greg Clarke. Earlier this year, Manchester United became the first UK club to partner with Stonewall, agreeing a ground-breaking initiative where the club helps the charity tackle LGBT issues in sport and wider society.

Discussing the importance of Manchester United’s support, Ruth Hunt said:

“Manchester United’s support means we can reach millions of football fans both here and around the world, to encourage them to do their part in making all people feel welcome in sport…It’s crucial for organisations like Manchester United to show they not only welcome LGBT people, but are active in leading the change. At the moment, many LGBT people want to take part in sport, either as players or fans, but the behaviour of a minority can make them feel unsafe, unwelcome or unable to be themselves.”

More than 25 years have passed since the Taylor Report set the top flight of English football on a path towards all-seater stadia, CCTV and a harder line on the abuse of players, managers, officials and fans.  Some still lament the terraces, others may bemoan a decline in the volume and frequency of singing and chanting. But there is no doubt that Premier League grounds are now far friendlier to families than in the 1980s. Fans are more respectful of the race, religious beliefs and sexual orientation of others. These can only be seen as positives.

For their efforts to reduce homophobic abuse to nil, the Premier League and Stonewall make a great team as the Communicator of the Week.

Photo: Stonewall