Stonewall: British public overwhelmingly supports LGBTQ+ people in sport

Stonewall has kicked off its annual Rainbow Laces campaign by urging people to “call out” LGBTQ+ discrimination at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall launched its Rainbow Laces campaign for its ninth year with new research about support for LGBTQ+ athletes and a message for the queer community in Qatar ahead of the country’s controversial hosting of the World Cup in November.

While Football Association (FA) chief executive Mark Bullingham has said the association had received assurances from Qatari officials that LGBTQ+ people won’t be prosecuted for holding hands at the World Cup, the country has a history of punishing locals and tourists alike for homosexuality.

Activists have called on FIFA to ensure the safety of queer football fans who travel to the country, with some saying that the assurances are not enough.

Joe White, co-chair of Pride in Football, told PinkNews: “To a Qatari police officer or to anyone dealing with that, they’re not going to care what the English FA is saying.”

Liz Ward, director of programmes at Stonewall, added: “As we approach the 2022 Men’s World Cup, we must remember that Qatar is country where LGBTQ+ people are persecuted simply for being themselves.

“Sadly, this year’s tournament is not safe for everyone, which is why it’s so important to see players and fans stand up to be counted.

“The World Cup is a vital moment for the global sporting community to stand up and call out the criminalisation and persecution of LGBTQ+ people in Qatar.”

The Rainbow Laces campaign also aims to support out LGBTQ+ athletes, with Stonewall’s research finding that “the majority of Britons are now supportive of LGBTQ+ athletes” including Tom Daley, Michael Gunning, and England Lioness Beth Mead.

Its research also found that over the last five years, the proportion of sports fans who think homophobic remarks in sport are acceptable has almost halved, from 25 per cent in 2017 to 14 per cent in 2022.

Only three in 10 fans (29 per cent), however, believe competitive sport is welcoming for trans athletes, after several bans on trans people playing professional sport were pushed through this year.

Ward added: “Since the beginning of the Rainbow Laces campaign, we’ve seen awareness grow and grow, with more than one million laces modelled in boots across the world’s pitches and, as a result, we’ve seen attitudes fundamentally shift – the majority of Britons are now supportive of LGBTQ+ athletes.

“However, we cannot become complacent… new research shows that the public recognise that there is more work to do to create a world where LGBTQ+ people are free to be themselves both on and off the pitch.”

The campaign comes as several high-profile athletes have come out in recent months, including Jake Daniels – the first pro male footballer to come out in 30 years – as well as Olympic champion Kelly Holmes, and tennis player Nadia Podoroska.