[written by BLAKE KEE WEI]
Stonewall, an anti-homophobia organization has launched a campaign called Right Behind Gay Footballers in support of anti-homophobia among footballers. The organization has urged players to wear rainbow-coloured boot laces. They are backed by a leading chain of bookmakers. The initiative however, has been criticized by other equality bodies for using messages which rely on “sexualized innuendo and stereotypes about gay men”.
Stonewall has sent rainbow-coloured laces to all 92 professional football clubs in England and all 42 professional football clubs in Scotland. Everton Football Club who are sponsored by the same bookmakers, have announced that some of the players will wear them.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez said: “The players are well aware of the meaning of the campaign and we are happy to support it”.
Queens Park Rangers midfielder Joey Barton has also joined in in wearing the laces.
Football v Homophobia (FvH), another body working to fight homophobia, is one of the bodies who rejected the chance to work on this initiative. They claimed that terms such as ‘Right Behind Gay Footballers’ actually reinforces “stereotypes about homophobia”
“We applaud the sentiments behind the idea central to the ‘Rainbow Laces’ campaign, namely solidarity with gay players, but 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,” FvH said in a statement.
Stonewall is teamed up with Paddy Power for this entire campaign. They told BBC Sport that they teamed up with Paddy Power because it can “talk the language of fans and players”. They also stated that the slogan might be a risk, the “overall message was to make sure that homophobic abuse does not have a place in the game”.
A spokesman for Stonewall said: “We don’t think it’s comparable to the worst abuse. Overall, it is encouraging and engaging support for gay players and attempts to kick homophobia out of football”.
While most clubs have regarded the campaign as raising an important issue, the lack of notice given to them and the campaign’s links to a bookmaker known for publicity stunts have caused a few problems. Several Premier League clubs have expressed their dissatisfactions over the way the campaign was initiated without any form of consultation whatsoever.
“It is this lack of communication that has irked several clubs who believe that the serious message is being lost in guerilla marketing report Press Association Sport, who also claim that one side revealed security officials had to step in after campaigners broken into their training ground and attempted to unfurl a flag,” said Mirror UK.
Several clubs such as Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Sunderland, Norwich City and Southampton have announced that they will not be taking part in the initiative.
“Whilst the campaign message is positive and one we support, there was unfortunately no prior consultation with ourselves, the Premier League or other clubs,” Spurs said in a statement.
“Such consultation would have enabled us to avoid issues in respect of associated third-party commercial entities.
“We have contacted Stonewall directly and let them know that we are supportive and keen to discuss ways in which we can work together going forward.
“We are committed to working with organizations such as Stonewall and other agencies to eradicate homophobia in football and society.”
Other than Joey Barton, Fulham goalkeeper David Stockdale has said that he planned to wear them. His club however, is also unhappy about the way the initiative was handled.
A statement from Fulham read: “The players have been given the opportunity to wear the laces, entirely at their discretion.
“The underlying message behind this campaign is a good one, and we work hard to ensure the whole equalities agenda is something we are engaged in.
“This campaign was initiated without consultation with clubs or the League. Had we been involved earlier in the process we could have worked with Stonewall to consider it more carefully.
“Fulham remains committed to supporting and promoting equality throughout all sectors of society as our work within local communities would confirm.”
Despite these problems, Paddy Power insists that the response has been positive. A spokesman from Paddy Power said: “Six days ago this issue was on nobody’s agenda. Now everyone is engaging in it and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. That’s got to be a good thing. The powers that be seem concerned a week is not enough notice. How long does it take to change a pair of boot laces?”.