COMMENT: We will fight homophobia in the beautiful game

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Football. The most popular team sport on the planet, the beautiful game.

But that is not always the case if you’re a football fan who happens to be gay.

For the game, with its millions of devotees and billions of pounds of investment, doesn’t appear to be overly keen to celebrate gay involvement.

It’s been almost 20 years since a professional footballer in the UK came out.

Justin Fashanu, whose name is still known, sadly not for the fleet footed talent he brought to the game, but because announced he was gay in 1990.

He may have been naively expecting that a flood of fellow players would be brave enough to follow his lead. It didn’t happen and eight years later he was found hanged in Fairchild Place, a lock up beneath some railway arches in Shoreditch.

About a one minute walk from Fairchild Place is Christina Street and our office at Kick It Out.

Since being formed in 1997, Kick It Out has challenged discrimination in football on all fronts. From the banana-throwing boneheads on the terraces to the undetected institutional racism of the boardroom and we’ve made significant headway in 11 years of existence.

In 2008 we see a different footballing landscape, black players are everywhere, ethnic minority communities are getting closer to the game and there is greater awareness of the challenges we face now.

It’s still one, however, with no openly gay players and where casual abuse of many players has homophobic overtones.

We’re exist to, among other things, help raise the issue of homophobia in football.

We want to pose some questions and unearth some answers, as to why the world of professional football remains hostile to the openly lesbian, gay and transgender sections of the population.

We want to hear your thoughts, comments and experiences.

Attitudes to homosexuality have changed over the last 20 years or so, in a similar manner to those on the football terraces.

Some argue that the entertainment industry led the way.

Ironic now that in an age where football is seen increasingly as entertainment itself, there remains a refusal to follow suit.

Thankfully, there are groups out there actively committed to making it better for gay footballers to declare their sexuality.

Stonewall, Leftfooters FC, the Justin Campaign and the Gay Football Supporters Network are all playing their part. The success of the recent Gay and Lesbian World Cup was testament to this.

The FA has set up a working on dealing with Homophobia that will have an impact and it is on the radar of our other partners such as the Professional Footballers’ Association and the Premier League.

It will take a lot more than a few meetings and declarations of intent to change behaviour that may be inextricably linked to the game.

The challenges are enormous but as the game’s equality campaign, we know only too well what can be achieved and the positive impact that football can have.

And it is high time that representation from the gay community is a permanent fixture.

Piara Powar, Director, Kick It Out.

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COMMENT: We will fight homophobia in the beautiful game