When players from one Swedish soccer team were found to have hurled anti-gay insults at a rival team, the soccer club to which they belonged decided to take firm action against this kind of behavior and suspended the entire team.
Reports say that the entire lineup of Sörskogens IF received a one year suspension for what the club deemed unacceptable harassing behavior during an autumn match against the Stockholm Snipers. The Snipers are a club that has stated publicly that it welcomes gay players.
The club treated the accusations against the players so seriously that they were immediately summoned to a meeting before the club board. Reports suggest this wasn’t the first time the players, all aged between 25 and 30, had been warned over their behavior by the Seventh Division club.
This is believed to be the first time the Stockholm Football Association has penalized a club specifically for homophobic behavior during a match, but the club suspension was not part of that punishment — it was a penalty the club decided to enact of its own volition.
During the match, players from Sörskogens were heard saying “you suck cock for 50 kronor”, “all of you have HIV”, and “we’re probably going to get infected”, among several other homophobic remarks, the local Mitt i Huddinge newspaper reported.
Following the incident, Sörskogens IF was fined 5,000 kronor ($755) by the Stockholm Football Association, which also demanded that top club officials attend a training course.
Club manager Ketil Torpm, in an interview with local radio station Sveriges (SR), said that the club had no choice but to act. “That kind of language isn’t appropriate for football or anywhere else,” he is reported to have said. “We distance ourselves from all insults. Clearly it’s damaging for the club to have players who don’t follow the rules.”
Homophobia in soccer continues to be a problem, but recently actions from club administrators and the players themselves have appeared to show a shift toward a more accepting culture.
Before the London Olympics, the Football Association also signed to a charter designed to give “a red card to homophobia and transphobia” in sport. The charter commits the FA to working towards an LGBT-inclusive atmosphere that does not just allow for LGBT players but makes them feel welcome.
More recently, a number of top flight managers have told the press they would welcome a gay player and that they believe gay players would, on the whole, not face problems.
Soccer players have remained reticent, however. Since the deeply tragic case of Justin Fashanu, soccer’s only star player to have ever come out who sadly took his own life in 1998, no player has been open about their sexuality. A number of soccer managers and governing bodies are still known to be advising players not to come out.
However, it seems clear that a zero-tolerance approach, like that taken by Sörskogens IF, is the only way in which to truly create a gay-inclusive atmosphere in soccer.
The question is whether First Division clubs are willing to test their convictions in this way.
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