A footballer is gay.. So what, say the FA in new initiative against homophobia
The FA have pledged full support for the first Barclays Premier League player to break football's final taboo and openly admit to being gay.
Justin Fashanu remains the only player in the history of English football to 'come out', but the FA are to provide a secure platform for today's stars to challenge attitudes in the sport.
At the launch of a new awareness campaign at Wembley – Opening Doors and Joining In – FA chiefs also promised tough sanctions on anyone found guilty of homophobia.
On the ball: Fashanu remains the only British player to openly admit he is gay
Adrian Bevington, managing director of Club England, is to promote a 'So What' culture across football in this country as part of an ongoing commitment to raising awareness.
Although the FA are keen to stress that their initiative is not the start of a witch-hunt to find a gay footballer, Opening Doors and Joining In is designed to diversify the game.
Bevington, who was joined at Wembley on Monday by other leading figures from the FA and former professional footballers, spoke passionately and conclusively about the issue.
He said: 'We want to ensure that if any player wishes to be open about their sexuality, then they can do it with the full support of the FA. We want a “So what” culture in football.'
The FA are encouraging people within the game – spectators, players, managers and match officials – to report homophobia and transphobia.
PFA chief Gordon Taylor has already authorised hundreds of awareness posters to be sent to professional clubs all over the country to be placed in prominent positions on dressing-room walls.
'We want a “So what” culture in football.'
FA chairman David Bernstein has also given his consent to a six-point action plan to create an environment where 'lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities can be actively involved, without the fear of discrimination or prejudice'.
The FA have promised to act against anyone found guilty of making homophobic comments at matches, with the option of bans for serial offenders.
Through this initiative, they will provide educational programmes as the first step to addressing discrimination in all forms of the game.
Yesterday the organisation asked former professionals, including Graeme Le Saux and John Scales, to discuss their remarkable dressing-room experience.
Le Saux, who is happily married to wife Mariana, lived with being labelled gay, which was perpetuated on the terraces, throughout his professional career.
Taunt: Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler infamously taunted Le Saux in 1999
He admitted that as a young man he did not deal with the issue well, but even now suspects it would be difficult for a gay footballer openly to discuss his sexuality.
Le Saux said: 'At the time it isolated me from team-mates and I wasn't even gay – even 20 years on I don't think it would be easy for a player to openly admit their sexual orientation.
Changing times: The FA's new campaign, backed by Graeme Le Saux and Hope Powell
'My fear is the frenzy that will follow, but football is more multi-cultural than at any other time in its history so it is time for attitudes to change. Modern dressing rooms are full of different backgrounds – I don't think people would be demanding that a gay player changed in a different dressing room.
'Tackling homophobia is a complex issue, but I would stand up to a team-mate in the dressing room if they made an unacceptable remark.'
Scales was so angry with the sniggers in the Wimbledon dressing room that he deliberately courted a 'trophy girlfriend' to take to the post-1988 FA Cup final dinner.
The former Wimbledon defender also revealed that John Fashanu was so angry about a 'naive' dressing-room comment Scales made about his brother Justin that his team-mate took him out during a training session the next day.
Scales said: 'I didn't have a girlfriend before the Cup final, so the dressing room concluded that I must be gay. I almost had to make sure I had a trophy girlfriend to take with me to the reception to prove to people that I wasn't.
'Fashanu over-reacted to a naive comment I made about his brother and he hit me hard in training, but I accepted it.'
Despite the FA's commendable attitude, the campaign has been met with criticism by gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. The fierce political activist claims the FA are simply paying lip-service to a topic of increasingly significant social importance.
Tatchell said: 'This new initiative is commendable and welcome, but it's full of vague, general pledges.'