The survey by Staffordshire University concluded that football fans are united in their condemnation of anti-gay attitudes, a widespread and ugly side of the game, but football’s top agencies are out of touch with the desire for change.
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It comes as Stonewall, the UK’s leading gay rights group, has announced it is beginning to engage with the Scottish FA (SFA) to highlight the damaging extent of homophobia in the sport.
The Staffordshire University study of 2,000 fans online, including contributions from Rangers, Celtic, Partick Thistle, Alloa and Hibernian supporters, found 93% of football fans disapproved of homophobic abuse during games.
A total of 60% of fans think gay players should reveal their sexuality, while 40% believe it is a private matter. Most fans want the game’s governing bodies to do more to tackle the issue.
The report comes after the English FA cancelled the launch of a high-profile campaign video against homophobia in February. It was eventually released without fanfare online and on DVD. In the same month Gordon Taylor, chief of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), said that the issue of homophobia was not high on the sport’s agenda.
It led to criticism from gay rights groups. PR guru Max Clifford revealed he had advised three gay professional footballers against coming out because the game was “stuck in the Dark Ages”.
Last September Stonewall conducted its own survey of more than 2,000 fans and professionals, entitled Leagues Behind: Football’s failure to tackle anti-gay abuse. It found that fans were accepting of gay players and embarrassed by homophobic chants.
It said two-thirds of fans would be comfortable if a player on their team came out as gay, seven out of 10 fans have heard anti-gay chants and more than half believe bodies such as the Football Association and individual clubs are not doing enough to tackle homophobia.
No high-profile footballer in the UK has followed Welsh rugby union star Gareth Thomas and come out.
Ellis Cashmore, professor of culture, media and sport, who conducted the Staffordshire University report, said the lack of action on homophobia from clubs and governing bodies was ludicrous. “They are so out of step it is embarrassing,” he said. He added that he was surprised that football fans were so “gay friendly”. The survey reported little variation in opinion between the results at a UK level and Scotland, and Cashmore is conducting more research at
Stonewall Scotland said it was engaging with the SFA to try to enact some of the recommendations contained within its Leagues Behind report.
“More often than not there is a lack of confidence in knowing how to deal with these issues,” said Carl Watt, director of Stonewall Scotland. “Leadership needs to be shown from the SFA and the clubs that sends a clear message to fans coming into the grounds that homophobia will not be tolerated.”
When asked about measures to prevent anti-gay slurs at football matches in Scotland, the SFA said all clubs announce a code of conduct, agreed in 2007, over the tannoy before the match prohibiting such behaviour.
A SFA spokesperson added: “The Scottish FA is opposed to discrimination of any kind both on and off the pitch. The survey by Staffordshire University shows football fans, for the most part, are more tolerant than they are given credit for.”
The SFA declined to answer if it plans to do anything new.
When approached regarding the criticisms contained in the report, a PFA spokeswoman said: “Currently we do not have any members of the PFA who have openly declared they are gay. If a player approached us regarding this matter there are support mechanisms in place to ensure the player has the full support of the Association.”