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Discrimination of any kind in sport must be stamped out

IT is 176 years since the last person was hanged in Britain for homosexuality, and 45 since the Sexual Offences Act ended the ban on sex between men.

Yet attitudes in sport remain Neanderthal – especially in football. Justin Fashanu was the world's first professional player to come out, in 1990. Reaction beggared belief. He was declared an outcast by his own brother, was famously described as "a bloody poof" by his manager, Brian Clough. Ultimately he hanged himself. It was 18 years before French internationalist Olivier Rouyer disclosed he was gay – but he had retired from football.

Combating racial discrimination is far more high profile than countering homophobia, but at last there are moves to address a cancer which seems almost taboo in sport.

Equality campaigners and trade unionists unite tommorrow in London to mark international Football v Homophobia day – part of the Justin Campaign, initiated by Fashanu's friends and relatives. On Monday, the Edinburgh-based Equality Network launch a survey into homophobia and transphobia in Scottish sport. Their snapshot of lesbian gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) views will help combat homophobia and transphobia.

This is overdue. The sports community is unforgiving. That was the perception of world record-breaking cyclist Graeme Obree who suffers from bipolar disorder. He twice attempted suicide while comming to terms with his orientation. He remains among little more than a handful of world-class UK sportsmen to come out.

Wales and Lions captain Gareth Thomas said his double life had driven him close to suicide, while Aussie Olympic gold-medal platform diver Matt Mitcham struggled to find sponsorship.

LEAP (Leadership, Equality and Active Participation) Sports Scotland work with the Equality Network to tackle discrimination in sport on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Herald Sport has seen the raw data of their current survey. It's still being evaluated, but reveals that of 179 respondees, 100 (60%) had been the victim of, or witnessed anti LGBT behaviour associated with football. The majority were supporters, but seven were players, five were match officials, four were stewards, and two were on police, fire, or medical duty.

The disgusting, explicit nature of the abuse does not bear repeating but other areas of the survey are heartbreaking.

"I was good at sports in primary school," said one teenage respondent. "When I got to PE in secondary, I was clearly gay. I was picked on, and so I started to avoid PE. I fell out of love with sports, and got very depressed and fat. I tried to take my own life at one point. I'd love to get involved in something again, but just not sure where or how.

"I walked into the changing rooms the day after I came out. All the boys turned to me and said: 'You're not welcome here.' I refused to leave. A couple of the boys came right up to my face and started shoving me and got my hands behind my back. I couldn't move, then the other one smacked me in the face. I was too scared to go back to PE."

Professor Steve Robertson of the Centre for Men's Health and fellow staff at the Institute for Health and Wellbeing at Leeds Metropolitan University is helping mastermind a research application to the European Commission. LMU is among nine co-applicants from across Europe who will shortly submit a bid: "Fundamental Rights in Sport" on sexual orientation in football across the EU.

Robertson enjoys an international reputation and worked in the NHS for more than 20 years, some of it in North Lanarkshire where his job included evaluation of suicide awareness, and of the Premier League's health programme. He is editor-in-chief of the International Journal and a consultant to the Department of Health and WHO.

"Equality and diversity in football has been grabbing headline attention again," says Robertson. "With the resignation of Fabio Capello being wrapped around issues of alleged racism by England captain John Terry, the spotlight is well and truly back on the role that football plays in promoting, but also in dealing with, aspects of discrimination."

Robertson's Leeds colleague, Dr David Carless, told Herald Sport there is a silence in academic literature on the subject, a confirmation of homophobic attitudes. The omerta, because of fear of the consequences, hinders research. "It's clearly dangerous from a mental health perspective. This is invariably a hidden issue."

Dr Carless is openly gay and confesses: "I was in sport. I played rugby. I was out of it before I became comfortable with my sexual identity, but already I didn't feel I fitted within sport as I was experiencing it."

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