I want to break free…

Homophobia…Sport…unfortunately for some athletes up and down the UK they go hand in hand. For some people, the idea of coming out at their sports club is actually far worse than coming out to their parents. Why is that the case? What does it matter if that person is Gay, Bisexual, or Trans? Does that really change how the person then performs in their upcoming match or event?

A myth that the sporting world has been unable to dispel is the perception of some sports. The likes of football, boxing and rugby are seen by some as the typical ‘mens’ sports and should a male wish to take part in the likes of Gymnastics, Ice Skating or even Ballroom Dancing, they are immediately tarred with being gay, having homosexual tendencies or most likely to turn out gay. But why? What is the difference between one sport and another? Why do people feel that they can’t be out and true to themselves?

In 2010, the Chief of the Professional Footballers Association, Gordon Taylor, claimed that the issue of Homophobia was ‘not high on the sports agenda’, specifically referring to football. So what are they doing about it? The same time these comments were made they produced a video tackling the issue of Homophobia in the sport but it was pulled because the FA believed the message was ‘too blunt’ and says we should wait until the crowds become ‘more civilised’ and that football was a ‘macho enviroment’ and ‘this particular issue will take time and consideration because it can get very emotional’. I’m sorry but isn’t rugby more ‘macho’ and physical sport than football?

Former Captain and 100 times capped Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas came out in December 2009 having just gone through a divorce and struggling to come to terms with his sexuality even contemplating taking his own life. This goes to show just how hard it was for him internally yet he was able to keep up that so called ‘macho’ persona. I bet if you asked anyone who you thought was Gay in any sport, Gareth Thomas would not have sprung to mind at any point.

I do agree that there’s an issue with regards to players (mainly football again, sorry) not being more open minded and accepting of other players. In saying that, yet again to slam Gordon Taylor a bit more, multiple anti-racism campaigns have been run and re-run yet ‘some’ players can’t take the hint and think that racial slurs or actions deemed racist *cough* John Terry and Luis Suarez *cough* are still acceptable. Have the players really become that more ‘civilised’ after these types of campaigns?

It’s a sad day when our country has progressed significantly further than others across the world, in terms of equal rights, and our national sporting heroes and heroines feel that they have to keep their true identity hidden. The recent BBC Three documentary ‘Britain’s Gay Footballers’ of which there are 5,000 professional players yet not one ‘out’ football player. The documentary doubled BBC Three’s ratings for their regular 9pm-10pm slot to nearly ¾ of a million viewers, which I think goes to show the interest people have in this issue. In the same documentary Queen’s Park Rangers captain Joey Barton touches on his own personal experiences with regards to one of his uncle’s and how he never knew that he was Gay, yet that didn’t matter. He even comments on the possibility that some managers and players have a ‘lack of social awareness and intelligence’ when it comes to having a gay player in the dressing room. His optimism at having a Gay player coming out in the next ten years or so is one not shared with the brother of the late Justin Fashanu, the first openly gay footballer. John went on to say that, ‘I think there’s more chance of the next Pope being black, than you finding a footballer who will come out and say he’s gay.’

The best thing is that these athletes, footballers, swimmers etc. don’t have any form of extra advantage over anyone else. It is a level playing field, gay athletes such as Matthew Mitcham, an Australian diver who won Gold in Beijing in 2008 or Martina Navratilova who holds the all-time record in the tennis singles and doubles for most career titles for men or women. These athletes work as hard as the rest to ensure that they are the top of their game, ensuring they are in peak physical and mental condition. Their sexuality has absolutely nothing to do with them taking part in their chosen sport. Unlike many other people, sport is their career, it’s their job. Don’t we have anti-discrimination laws against this type of thing?

People may say that homophobia’s ‘not an issue’ or ‘not high on our agenda’ but when you really look at it, it should be. These organisations should be ensuring that their ‘employees’ as it were, were free from harassment in the workplace. How many people are afraid to take part in any form of sporting activity due to the fact they may be ‘outed’? As a society we have a duty to encourage as many people as possible to take part in sporting activity, regardless of the level they take it to. We need to encourage sports clubs and societies to become more ‘gay friendly’ and be aware that they could potentially have one or more people who are Gay in their club. I think the most important thing for sports teams to take away is the word ‘team’. They need to go back and assess what it really means to them and their team mates. Personally for me, a team is a unit that comes together, no matter what, and has an end goal or mission that they all need to be part of to achieve that goal. What’s the point of breaking the link in the chain when the issue has no effect on you? So go on…what does the word ‘team’ really mean to you

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