Can Rainbow Laces Help Give Homophobia in Soccer the Boot?
A UK gay rights charity has sent top flight soccer clubs in the UK rainbow laces, encouraging footballers to wear them and join a campaign to kick homophobia out of the so-called Beautiful Game.
National gay rights charity Stonewall has teamed up with gambling firm Paddy Power to launch the “Right Behind Gay Footballers” campaign — yes, more on the potential for innuendo below — to encourage soccer teams across the country to come out in support of gay soccer players and fans.
While other so-called macho sports such as Rugby League and Union have strict anti-homophobia campaigns that appear to have connected with fans, soccer has lagged behind, with the sport’s governing bodies (while having recently made progress) slow to engage.
Stonewall and Paddy Power, whom Stonewall teamed up with because betting group Paddy Power “speaks the language” of fans, hope to change that in a number of ways. One of the most prominent features of the campaign besides its online presence with the hashtag #RBGF includes sending rainbow laces to 92 of England’s top flight professional teams as well as 42 of Scotland’s professional teams.
“It’s time for football clubs and players to step up and make a visible stand against homophobia in our national game. That’s why we’re working with Paddy Power on this fun and simple campaign. By wearing rainbow laces players will send a message of support to gay players and can begin to drag football in to the 21st century.”
Joey Barton, a prominent soccer player for Queens Park Rangers and long time gay rights supporter, has already thrown his celebrity behind the cause. So too has ex-England player turned soccer commentator and host for the BBC’s flagship Match of the Day soccer program Gary Lineker, who has vowed to wear the laces during a future broadcast.
Paddy Power, a firm based in Dublin, Ireland, has earned a reputation for its somewhat laddish advertisements and so by lending its name and public image to an anti-homophobia soccer campaign, it is hoped Paddy Power can reach male supporters of the game and help them challenge homophobia. A Paddy Power spokesperson is quoted as saying:
“We love football but it needs a kick up the arse. In most other areas of life people can be open about their sexuality and it’s time for football to take a stand and show players it doesn’t matter what team they play for. Fans can show they are right behind this by simply tweeting using the #RBGF hashtag whilst all players have to do is lace up this weekend to help set an example in world sport.”
Paddy Power drew the ire of the UK’s trans community for what was dubbed a “Spot the Transgender” ad it ran in 2012 where viewers were encouraged to discern which women at a horse racing event were in fact trans. LGBT commentators said the ad was dehumanizing and stigmatizing. The ad was eventually banned by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority.
Paddy Power refused to apologize over the ad though, saying that it had been labled tongue-in-cheek by a leading trans rights group who saw the script before the ad aired, and that Paddy Power had in fact cast trans women in the ad so as to ensure that they were properly represented.
Paddy Power has drawn praise for this latest gay rights initiative, but not everyone is happy with the cheeky slogan “Get Behind Gay Footballers” because, they say, it plays on a sexualizing message.
Football v. Homophobia (FvH), an international initiative opposing homophobia in football at all levels, was involved at the early stages of creating this campaign but chose not to continue its involvement because it says that while it supports the spirit of the campaign, it believes that the slogan draws on the kind of language that is not necessarily funny and empowering but instead reductive.
Our discomfort is with the reliance on sexualised innuendo and stereotypes about gay men and anal sex, as exemplified by the tag line ‘Right Behind Gay Players’. As an initiative with a strong focus on education, 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.
We would therefore invite people to applaud the positive aspects of ’Rainbow Laces’ and at the same time reflect on the language used, in particular how appropriate the tag line “Right Behind Gay Players” is as a means to tackle homophobia in football.
This seems to center more on a difference of approach rather than substance, with Stonewall pointing out that their teaming up with Paddy Power was in effect to tap into the kind of language that might be heard among supporters and use it in a positive way.
Some soccer clubs such as Manchester United have already declined to wear the rainbow laces, but not because they don’t support the spirit of the campaign but because of issues of advertising conflicts due to the prominence of Paddy Power’s involvement. However, club Everton, who it should be noted are also sponsored by Paddy Power, have said they are lacing up for coming match fixtures.
Individual players including Fulham goalkeeper David Stockdale, Cardiff City striker Peter Odemwingie and team-mate Mark Hudson have all said they will back the campaign.
Scottish League One club Stenhousemuir has also said at least some of its players will be taking part.
The English Premiere League has gone on record as saying that, while it wishes it had been consulted about the initiative, it is happy for individual players to choose to support the cause and wear the rainbow laces.
There are currently no out gay players in the English or Scottish leagues, with many within soccer’s governing bodies still on record as advising against gay players coming out in case it should affect teams, sponsorship and general fan involvement.
With the rainbow laces campaign, it is hoped that this is a situation that will soon change.
Image credit: Thinkstock.