In response to requests from the press and from football clubs for our opinion on Stonewall and Paddy Power’s current ‘Rainbow Laces’ campaign, Football v Homophobia would like to offer the following comment.
Football v Homophobia was invited by Paddy Power to be a part of the campaign in its early stages. Whilst supporting the overall aims of the initiative, we did not feel comfortable with some aspects of the language and tone, and so felt that we did not wish to take our involvement any further. However, we welcome the opportunity for further discussion and debate around some of the issues of language raised by the campaign.
Football v Homophobia works to address homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in football, in conjunction with all stakeholders in the game – the players, the fans, and the organizing bodies. We welcome any attempt to tackle homophobia in football around the world, and any attempt to take this message beyond the LGBT community. We therefore applaud the sentiments behind the laces idea central to the ‘Rainbow Laces’ campaign, namely solidarity with gay players.
Our discomfort is with the reliance on sexualised innuendo and stereotypes about gay men and anal sex, as exemplified by the tag line ‘Right Behind Gay Players’. As an initiative with a strong focus on education, we feel it is incongruous to run a campaign aiming to change football culture whilst using language which reinforces the very stereotypes and caricatures that, in the long term, ensure that homophobia persists. There is a long history, perhaps best captured by the infamous Robbie Fowler incident, whereby anal sex has been the focus of homophobic abuse in the sport.
A number of organisations, like ours, have been campaigning for years for a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to discrimination, and we are disappointed to see that the wording of this tag line gives license for a blurring of the already difficult territory between implicitly and explicitly homophobic and transphobic language, and football ‘banter’. For example, the following comments have been posted on Paddy Power’s own Facebook page, under the “Right Behind Gay Footballers” banner:
The final comment, referring to Brighton, is of particular interest. It was only four months ago, in the wake of a report that showed overwhelming (72% of matches) homophobic abuse, that the Brighton & Hove Albion Supporters’ Club (BHASC) called on the football authorities for help to tackle abuse aimed at fans, often couched as ‘banter’.
Whilst Paddy Power are not responsible for the general level of homophobia and transphobia we witness in football, and indeed are trying to counter this with ‘Rainbow Laces’, aspects of the campaign have acted as a catalyst for the kind of attitudes and language that BHASC and Football v Homophobia have been working hard to challenge. ‘Rainbow Laces’ may have an important short-term advantage of drawing attention to the issue of homophobia in football, but this needs to be followed in the long-term with an informed and sensitive discussion around the contested nature of what constitutes discriminatory, offensive language as opposed to acceptable banter.
We would therefore invite people to applaud the positive aspects of ‘ Rainbow Laces’ and at the same time reflect on the language used, in particular how appropriate the tag line “Right Behind Gay Players’ is as a means to tackle homophobia in football.
The Football v Homophobia campaign runs throughout the year. If you would like to join us in tackling homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in football, there are three simple things you can do: