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What is the ‘Chelsea rent boy’ chant and why is it homophobic?

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A flag bearer waves a Chelsea FC flag with the LGBT+ Progress flag design

Nottingham Forest’s draw with Chelsea on Sunday (1 January) was marred by homophobic chants of ‘Chelsea rent boy’ that have been denounced by LGBTQ+ fan groups for both Premier League football teams.

Chelsea LGBTQ+ supporters group Chelsea Pride tweeted that they “totally condemn” the use of the homophobic slur after it was directed at Chelsea players during the match at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground stadium.

Nottingham Forest’s own LGBTQ+ supporters group wasted no time in tweeting that they were “embarrassed and ashamed” by the actions of their fellow fans, adding in a separate tweet that the chant “makes us question how welcome we actually are at our own club”.

In a statement issued after the match, Nottingham Forest FC said that the club “do not condone any type of discriminatory or offensive behaviour” and that the incident would be “fully investigated”.

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It’s far from the first time ‘Chelsea rent boy’ has been heard from the stands: the chant has been used regularly in recent decades and last season Liverpool and Leeds and Tottenham football clubs all issued statements condemning its use by some of their supports.

In January 2022, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) confirmed that it would treat the “vile and disgusting” chant as a hate crime.

What is the ‘Chelsea rent boy’ chant and why is it homophobic?

‘Chelsea rent boy’ is a demeaning phrase directed at Chelsea players and supporters by opposition fans. Whether those using it know it or not, the term has homophobic connotations that are intimately connected with Chelsea’s queer history.

A ‘rent boy’ is phrase used to describe a young male prostitute – specifically, a male prostitute who sells sex to other men.

The term has been directed at Chelsea players and fans rather than other football teams because of the London borough of Chelsea’s past status as an LGBTQ+ hotspot.

During the 1960s and ’70s, Chelsea was a hub for LGBTQ+ people in the West End of London, boasting numerous pubs and bars where queer people could freely be themselves in a homophobic cultural climate.

The borough’s LGBTQ+ scene meant it developed a reputation for being a location where ‘rent boys’ would look to meet men for sex – specifically around Earl’s Court, just minutes away from Chelsea FC’s Stamford Bridge football stadium.

Thus, the chant ‘Chelsea rent boy’ is effectively a homophobic insult that implies male Chelsea players and fans sell sex to other men.

Some of the motivation behind the chant has evolved in recent years, meaning that some people using the term in 2023 do not even realise its historically homophobic connotations.

After Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich brought Chelsea FC in 2003 and transformed the club’s fortunes by investing millions in the club, many opposition fans began to use the chant to mock Chelsea players for being ‘bought’. But regardless of the motivation, the homophobic undertone of using ‘rent boy’ as an insult to imply someone has paid sex with another man remains.

After Sunday’s incident at City Ground, LGBTQ+ Trickies took aim at “uneducated” people who still use the chant.

“We’re tired of trying to explain to the uneducated why the chant is wrong on all levels, we’re not tired of fighting for equality and inclusion,” the group wrote on Twitter.

“We have a problem and an issue when our own fans think this type of chant is acceptable and it makes us question how welcome we actually are at our own club.”

Yes, using the ‘Chelsea rent boy’ chant is now a hate crime

Last year, the Crown Prosecution Service confirmed that it considers the term ‘rent boy’ to be a homophobic slur, meaning that those using it could be liable for prosecution under hate crime laws.

A CPS spokesperson told Sky Sports News: “The CPS continues to take racist and homophobic chanting at football matches extremely seriously and is working closely the FA, football clubs and charities to drive this hideous behaviour out of the game.

“The impact on groups attacked by this type of mob behaviour can be devastating. We will not hesitate to prosecute anyone accused of these actions where there is sufficient evidence to do so.”

Chelsea FC praised the move at the time, writing on its official website: “Chelsea Football Club welcomes the news that the Crown Prosecution Service recognises that the term ‘rent boy’ is a homophobic slur, and that those who use it are liable to prosecution.

“We will continue to work with our supporters and our LGBTQ+ fan group Chelsea Pride to ensure that our club is welcoming and inclusive for all, and we will not hesitate to take action against anyone who persists in using this or any other discriminatory language, including working with the police and CPS to secure prosecutions.”

What is being done to stop the use of the ‘Chelsea rent boy’ chant?

Ultimately, it is the police who are responsible for enforcing the law around racist and homophobic language in football, rather than the Football Association (FA).

Groups like Kick It Out and campaigns like Rainbow Laces are working to educate fans and eradicate homophobia in football, but after Sunday’s incident Chelsea Pride have called on footballing authorities to do more to tackle homophobic chants and abuse.

In a statement shared on Twitter, the group wrote: “We challenge the football authorities to now change their stance and start to hold clubs and football fans accountable for discriminatory language that’s being used within stadiums forwards the LGBTQ+ community.

“If the CPS are now taking this seriously then the FA needs to change its own rule books.”

The organisations added: “Discrimination has not place in football [sic]. We need to educate and change this behaviour. It’s not harmless banter. Just because it doesn’t offend you, does not mean it’s not offending others.

“Our friends, our allies want to see a change. We all do.”

An FA spokesperson later told The Mirror that the organisation was committed to ending the use of ‘rent boy’ in football.

“We strongly condemn the use of the term ‘rent boy’ and we are determined to drive it out of our game. We continue to work closely with the Crown Prosecution Service, as well as the UK Football Policing Unit, in relation to the use of this term,” they said.

“Part of our work in this area has been to provide the relevant authorities with impact statements from LGBTQ+ supporters, detailing how chants of this nature affects their experience and feeling of inclusion at football matches, so that a clearer stance and understanding on the chant can be established.

“We stand firmly against all forms of discrimination and we are striving to ensure our game is a safe environment for all, which truly embraces diversity and challenges hateful conduct both on and off the pitch.”

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