Kick homophobia up the Arsenal

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.’s Marc Shoffman questions the effectiveness of anti-homophobia campaigns in sport.

Kick It Out, a campaign group against discrimination in sport just finished a week long awareness extravaganza. Although there were not many events against homophobia, sports fans have been warned all week that discrimination is wrong and to show others’ respect.

So I couldn’t help but smile as I sat in Arsenal Football Club’s plush new Emirates’ Stadium last night when the host announced that all fans should respect the travelling supporters for CSKA Moscow “because discrimination is wrong.”

A quick scan across the stadium and posters against discrimination catch the eye, echoing the Kick it Out message and the Football Association’s (FA) work on the subject.

The fact that I had just come from the Rugby Football Union’s launch of a poster campaign against homophobia made the night all the more suitable. It seemed that sport was finally becoming the all inclusive pastime it claims to be.

I sat back and the game kicked off. Regular visitors to Arsenal will know that the home fans are known for their silence. That is why a group called REDAction has been drafted in, to uplift the spirit of what was once known as the Highbury Library.

The usual chanting of names and hatred for North London rivals Tottenham rang out across the stadium and even I found myself in full swing, until the next number began.

“One man went to bed, went to bed with Ashley.” I went silent while the 60,003 strong crowd continued up to 11, no substitutes apparently.

The song refers to the News Of the World’s recent allegations that former Arsenal star Ashley Cole was involved in a gay orgy, a story they have since retracted and paid damages for.

So not only is the song offensive it is also wrong. What is this song saying to the Junior Gunner about sexuality? Where were the stewards ejecting the fans for homophobic chanting?

The problem is that these men in orange coats cannot be expected to eject thousands of supporters, especially the ones who are supposed to be bringing atmosphere to the event.

It is an impossible situation and shows how far behind some sports are in combating homophobia.

Its not just a problem for Arsenal, I’m sure it happens elsewhere and clubs such as Manchester City and Brighton have vowed to stop it, and some fans have been banned from stadiums because of it.

That is why the RFU’s commitment to a poster campaign which will be shown at sporting venues is so important, fans need to see that homophobia is wrong.

The FA and Kick It Out do deserve praise for their work against racism, but until their flags also mention homophobia then the problem will always be on the song sheets.