Critics warn ‘Right Behind Gay Footballers’ slogan relies on ‘innuendo’ about gay sex

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The “Right Behind Gay Footballers” campaign by Stonewall and Paddy Power is relying on “sexualised innuendo and stereotypes about gay men” – according to the group Football v Homophobia.

It has criticised the campaign’s slogan in a statement, saying: “Football v Homophobia (FvH) was invited by Paddy Power to be a part of the campaign in its early stages. Whilst supporting the overall aims of the initiative, we did not feel comfortable with some aspects of the language and tone, and so felt that we did not wish to take our involvement any further. However, we welcome the opportunity for further discussion and debate around some of the issues of language raised by the campaign.”

FvH added: “Our discomfort is with the reliance on sexualised innuendo and stereotypes about gay men and anal sex, as exemplified by the tag line ‘Right Behind Gay Players’. As an initiative with a strong focus on education, we feel it is incongruous to run a campaign aiming to change football culture whilst using language which reinforces the very stereotypes and caricatures that, in the long term, ensure that homophobia persists. There is a long history, perhaps best captured by the infamous Robbie Fowler incident, whereby anal sex has been the focus of homophobic abuse in the sport.”

A Stonewall spokesman said: “We teamed up with Paddy Power for this campaign precisely because they talked the language of players and fans. The slogan is risque and tongue in cheek but we are proud that it is engaging with fans and players and that they are taking a positive stand.

“The entire campaign has been overwhelmingly positively received and we have been extremely pleased with the response.

“Players and fans are getting the message that homophobic abuse is unacceptable.”

A Paddy Power spokesman said: “We’ve liaised with Stonewall throughout, used their insight and sought their sign off on the activity we’ve carried out. We’ve also had support for the campaign and the activity from the Gay Footballers’ Support Network.

“We did speak to Football v Homophobia about the campaign and we were hugely appreciative of their thoughts on it. We absolutely listened to their point of view and adjusted some of our creative based on their feedback.”

The campaign is based on distributing and encouraging footballers across all 134 professional clubs in the UK to wear rainbow laces at matches this weekend.

Queen’s Park Rangers midfielder Joey Barton became the first high profile player to back the project on Monday.

Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker tweeted his support for the campaign and requested a pair of laces yesterday.

He intends to wear them on Match of the Day this Saturday.

Everton became the first Premier League football team on Wednesday to announce that its players would wear rainbow laces.

The Gay Football Supporters’ Network (GFSN) has praised Paddy Power for teaming up with Stonewall – although some question the merit of working with the controversial bookmaker.

Paddy Power had a TV advert suspended in 2012 after it encouraged viewers to guess the gender of women at the Cheltenham horse racing festival.

The advert showed a series of women in the enclosures and indoor areas while the voiceover said “woman” or “man” for each.

Trans Media Watch said the advert exposed trans women to ridicule.

Paddy Power has also recently raised eyebrows among human rights activists after it sponsored US former basketball star Dennis Rodman on a trip to North Korea as part of his “basketball diplomacy”.

Ben Rogers, a North Korea expert with Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said: “If Dennis Rodman really feels it is right to be going to North Korea, he is a wealthy enough man to pay for it himself. I don’t know quite why it’s being sponsored by a company.”

In response, the bookmaker replied: “Paddy Power has an existing relationship with basketball legend Dennis Rodman and is supporting him, at his request, in his mission of basketball diplomacy.

“In this regard, we have sought guidance and taken advice from International Crisis Group, a well-regarded NGO with an established track record in North Korea.”