Whilst the Terry and Ferdinand racism controversy continues to claim both the front and back pages of the national media, reawakening the questionable past British football holds in regards to racism, the notion of homosexuality within ‘The World’s Game’ still remains a taboo subject.
From an outsider’s standpoint, our beloved sport is seen as one unable to accept gay players, unable to accept gay fans, and quite willing to openly spout homophobic abuse from the stands. Why is it that a sport that welcomes; all races, all religions and all nationalities, is still struggling to overcome the notion of sexuality within its game?
Whilst delving into football’s unfortunate history of abuse, isolation and degradation in regards to homosexuality I will also ask whether football can face up to its past and look for a brighter future in a metrosexual world?
In 2008 the body of South African Womens international Eudy Simelane was discovered battered and beaten. Simelane lived as an openly gay female, and it is believed her sexuality, coupled with her public position were two of the main motives behind the attack. She was the first openly gay footballer in Africa and her death was a stark reminder at how far behind some regions of Africa are in regards to accepting homosexuality as a lifestyle. The treatment of Simelane in South Africa serves as one of many intimidating acts that appear to prevent those players who are homosexual from being open about their lives. Her story serves as a shining beacon of bravery in regards to lesbianism in female football and stands alone as the torchbearer for those players of African origin who wish to be transparent about their sexuality and lifestyle.
One of the saddest stories regarding homophobia in football is attributed to former defender Thomas Berling. Berling, a former Norwegian u-19 international, retired from the game at just 21 after the homophobia within the sport pushed him to breaking point. Berling felt that the derogatory attitude towards homosexuality was too imbedded into the sport’s culture “gay is not a word but an insult in the football environment.” Berling admitted to also directing homophobic abuse at other players when attempting to cover his own identity, but eventually came out as gay and retired within a week of his announcement. After a brief return a year later, Berling retired permanently, admitting that the abuse and constant attempts to mask his orientation had let to psychological problems. Berling lost his career and his dreams because of the prejudices held in the changing rooms. Sadly, the game itself may have missed out on a world-class player because of that.
In 2009 Many French clubs signed a charter in support of gay football teams, Paris Foot Gay being one. Sadly an Islamic side in the same non-league division as Paris, refused to play the side, based on the teams principals. Allowing religious ideologies and blatant homophobia to affect football, a sport that sees no colour or creed, is unforgivable. Creteil Babel as a club, single-handedly undermined all the work that has been done to make football accessible to every demographic. Personally I believe that allowing fundamentalism to detract from the spirit and morals of our game is disgraceful, Paris Foot Gay are a proud and respectable side, who ask to be judged on a level playing field and not on their sexual preference.
Fortunately for football and equality as a whole, they have two truly groundbreaking individuals in Anton Hysen and David Testo. Swede Hysen and Canadian Testo are two current professional footballers who are also openly gay. Unashamed of their orientation and refusing to be intimidated by the behaviour of those within the sport, they are both happy to let team-mates and fans know they are homosexual and proud. Hysen came out in the public after realising the madness of the situation “It is f**ked up that no other Swedish player had come out yet.” Meanwhile Testo was also tired of hiding his secret life and said the lack of openly gay players’ shows “how far we need to go”, a sentiment I think most fans would support.
Testo also spoke about the on-field homophobia he faced, making his decision to go public even more inspiring. Maybe if gay players were to name and shame their abusers rather than the press attempting to out the players, we would have a much healthier sport, morally. I have absolute faith in my fellow fans and believe that any club would be proud to stand by and protect any player willing to put their careers at risk by coming out. By turning the abuse onto those who have an issue with homosexuality and not those who practise it, football would grow into a more understanding and more inspiring game, creating a true moral and ethical foundation for aspiring young players.
If more players take a leaf out of Hysen and Testo’s book then we may see, in the near future, a sport where homosexuality is accepted and players can be proud of who they are and no longer ashamed that they do not fit the demographic of the sport. Football unites all, if we can make steps to conquer its last taboo, we can become a marker for the sporting world as a whole.