Football took another step towards eliminating homophobia in football with the announcement this month by Charlton Athletic FC that they have formed an associate team called Charlton Athletic Community Trust Invicta FC (CIFC) which will extend the opportunity for members of the LGBT community to play football and at the same time further to cause of diversity in football.
FA's Inclusion Advisory Board chair Paul Elliott described it as a landmark event and praised Charlton Athletic for their "pioneering and forward- thinking approach". The new club started life as Bexley Invicta FC and has a roster of 20 players, and played for some time in the London Unity League.
The new team's player-manager, Gary Ginnaw, said "There is no place for prejudice in the game. Charlton was at the forefront of the fight against racism and the club is now leading the way in the fight against homophobia in football".
Currently there are no openly gay footballers in the higher leagues only Liam Davis of Cleethorpes Town who has never concealed his homosexuality, there are a surprising number of gay football fan clubs in existence, although only a handful are in the major leagues, and just one gay referee, Ryan Atkin. Given the amount of flak referees have to take generally, Ryan might be considered to be extremely brave to have made his announcement and followed it up by being involved in the Rainbow Laces initiative orchestrated by Stonewall in November.
Whilst football may be slowly being pushed into recognising that homophobia is unacceptable within the sport, it is a long way from the level of acceptance other sports extend. The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee's report "Homophobia in Sport" published in February of this year comments quite extensively on the lack of acceptance and tolerance of gay players within the male game, the ladies' teams are far more accepting.
The report goes as far as to comment "We are very concerned that, despite the significant change in society's attitudes to homosexuality in the last 30 years, there is little reflection of this progress being seen in football, particularly in terms of LGB visibility. Indeed, it is often LGB supporters who provide the only LGB visibility at football stadia". The significant level of verbal insults casually delivered to the gay community was also mentioned as follows "It is clear to us that the casual use of homophobic epithets and terms has a wide ranging and damaging effect and we consider it very disappointing that a significant percentage of people consider anti-LGB language to be harmless. It should be treated in the same way as other offensive language, whether racist, sexist or denigrating any other group". A damning conclusion. The documentary "Hate in the Beautiful Game" presented by Gareth Thomas captured homophobic chanting at a football ground on epic proportions which passed without comment or sanction by the club at which the chanting took place. This is particularly disappointing given that such behaviour contravenes the Discrimination Act 2010.
It is to be hoped that Charlton's historic step will help other clubs realise that there is very little to fear from the recognition and inclusion of gay players; the 8% of fans that a survey suggested would cease to support a club with gay players will soon be made up by greater numbers of gay fans.
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