Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has called for football clubs, supporters and the police to work together to eradicate homophobia from Premier League football.
Speaking at the final day of the LGBT History Month hosted by Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday, Ms Cooper called the lack of any openly gay football players in the Premier League “outrageous”, and called for leadership from within the football community to combat homophobia.
Speaking to an audience of LGBT campaigners and school children, she said: “It’s a really serious problem that there are no ‘out-gay’ footballers in the Premiership in 2013. Sport is so important to our national way of life but footballers still don’t feel able to come out. That’s why it’s essential that everybody work together”.
She added: “Football clubs need to show leadership, the FA need to show leadership and the fans all need to be included in this. Sport can challenge prejudice but only if we challenge prejudice in sport.”
Organisers of the evening used the stadium backdrop to highlight key problems facing LGBT individuals within the UK footballing community including homophobia and transphobia.
FA Equality Manager Funke Awoderu said there has “never been a better time to eradicate homophobia from the game”.
“It’s a subject football needs to come out of the closet about,” she said. “It’s unimaginable to think that there aren’t gay professional football players so it’s important we continue to educate and raise awareness. Our brief is not to out players but to cultivate an environment for LGBT players to come out themselves.
“The FA recognises its responsibility in this but everyone has a collective responsibility to make sure football is safe for all.”
Stuart Selby, a leading member of Arsenal supporters group The Gay Gooners, urged more LGBT fan groups like his to support the campaign.
“Arsenal FC has been very supportive of what we’re doing but we also want to make sure we’re not the only club with LGBT supporter groups to come out,” he said. “We want other supporter groups to join us in this campaign”.
“On one level The Gay Gooners came about as a reaction against homophobia but what brings us together is the love of the game, the love of our club and the enjoyment of being able to share that with others.”
Organisers made efforts to spread this message through schools and among parents. The day’s activities included a football tournament for children as well as musical performances from Hackney’s William Patten Primary School and Stoke Newington School and Sixth Form.
Lou Englefield, Campaign Director for Football vs Homophobia, an initiative opposing homophobic behaviour in the game, said she was encouraged by how young people received the campaign.
“The kids totally took on board the message that we were trying to spread,” she said. “ It’s all about beginning this kind of conversation and them taking that message home.”
She added: “The more we talk about it the more normal it will become.”
Although representatives from the FA and Arsenal were present throughout the event, professional players themselves were noticeably absent from the discussions, and many campaigners privately admitted this was one of the major challenges they currently faced.