Joey Barton: ‘The bureaucrats in football aren’t taking homophobia seriously’

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QPR midfielder Joey Barton says the “bureaucrats” in football have been guilty of not taking a tough enough stance against homophobia.

The 31-year-old told the Metro newspaper “it’s incredible we’re even having this conversation in 2013.”

Barton, who is straight, is supporting a new campaign tackling homophobia in football by encouraging players to wear rainbow laces.

The laces have been distributed to every footballer across all 134 professional clubs in the UK.

“The bureaucrats have been guilty of not taking a tough enough stance to make this issue go away. We live in quite a liberal democracy and it’s incredible we’re even having this conversation in 2013,” Barton said.

“The modern-day footballer is quite open-minded I think. People’s sexuality has become less and less of an issue. Hopefully a large number of players will get behind the campaign.”

He added: “It’ll be incredibly difficult to be the first player to come out until the game makes it easier for gay players to do so. It’s not down to the players whose sexuality may be called into question to make the next move. It’s important we take the first steps with this campaign.

“To any gay footballers, we have to say: ‘We will support you.’ It’s okay within society to be who you want to be but not quite so yet in football.”

The Right Behind Gay Footballers project by gay rights charity Stonewall and bookmaker Paddy Power is focused on changing attitudes in football rather than urging players to come out and wants players to wear the laces in games on Saturday and Sunday.

Figures show the chances of there not being a gay footballer among the 5,000 professional players in England and Scotland is more than a quadragintillion to one. Those are the same odds as correctly predicting the score in 150 consecutive matches.

Gareth Thomas became rugby’s first openly gay professional player in 2009 – and Steven Davies became England’s first openly gay professional cricketer in 2011.

But Joey Barton believes football has made slow progress when it comes to embracing gay diversity and that homophobia resembles how the sport previously treated racism. “As a sport, football is behind the times on this issue,” Barton said. “In the late 80s banana skins were being thrown onto the pitch. Fans would be held to account if they did that now and that’s the way you hope homophobia will also be dealt with.”

In August, the Professional Footballers’ Association announced every single footballer in the Premier League and Football League will have to attend a session this season to receive guidance on homophobic and racist language and where banter oversteps the mark.