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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Homosexuality and the Case of the Quiet Footballers

Anton Hysen

While thralling through the CNN website I came across an interesting piece on a professional footballer named Anton Hysen.You are unlikely to have of him before, playing as he does in the 4th division in Sweden, however, a recent interview with him has caused his name to rocket to the back pages of many major news wires on this side of the Atlantic. The reason, Hysen is gay.

Few sports are known to have such a masculine and tough image as that of football, at least in the British Isles. While the stamp out racism in football campaign has had some success and the recent backlash against Andy Gray and Richard Key's rather ignorant comments against a female line judge shows that sexism is being seen as unacceptable in the sport also. However, I know from my own experience that homophobic insults have their own place in the soccer stands, just as they do in playgrounds up and down the country.
While I don't claim to ever have been the victim of any severe homophobic bulying, nor do I profess to be a staunch gay rights campaigner I do take issue with such a climate existing in the locker room at football grounds across the world. For example the Croatian national manager has stated that as long as he is in charge no gays will be playing for Croatia and while Anton's decision has received widespread support his profile page on his club's web page was taken down due to the number of abusive comments placed on it by homophobic fans.

Justin Fashanu
Coming out is a dreadfully difficult time for any gay person. My experience with friends has shown my this and a number of these friends play sports such as Gaelic (Irish) Football and rugby. They are terrified of friends they have known for years turning their backs on them because of who they are. It is clear this issue will persist until such time as those with homophobic feelings are villified in such a way as those who are racist and and sexist rightfully are.

But the question persists of why there is a fear surrounding gay players in the major football leagues. The answer may lie in the sport's only other ever openly gay player, Justin Fashnu. Fashnu was a promising English player who was effectively forced to out himself after a British tabloid was siad to be going to print with an article about his affair with a prominent politician. Fashnu was already facing racist chants from the stands but the intensity was much greater followinghis outing in 1990. Ultimately, he took his own life, a result of an alleged sexual assault charge, the dreadful abuse he suffered and also the rejection he faced from his own circle of friends. His experiences, in my opinion, have undoubtedly made it difficult for top flight players to come out today.

Of course the FA still has a case to answer to in regards to its stance on homophobia. While it did approach footballers with a possible campaign against homophobia, all players who were approached by the FA refused to take part. The latest line from the governing body is that it is working with people on a constant basis on the issue and has developed a comprehensive strategy which it is striving to implement in the next 12 months.
Agents are also shying away from the taboo issue in the sport. Media mogul Max Clifford has stated that he has a advised two of footballs biggest stars on his books to remain in the closet so as not to damage their marketability. Of course it is undoubtable that agents also played some role in the no show for the FA's muted anti-homophobia marketing campaign.

I have never encountered anyone who has ever faced persecution beyond the norm as a result of their sexual orientation, however, I recognise that it still persists to a great extent in the field of atlethics. I also know that if the prejudice is to be largely eradicated from the sport then what is necessary are role models. We ned to get to a stage where little Johnny is hanging a picture of a world class footballer on his wall who happens o be gay on his wall, his prize possesion. I am not an advocate of calling people heroes or courageous without merit but if we are to achieve this goal then we need more people of the caliber of Anton to come forward as who they are  not for praise or sympathy or the attention of the world's media but as a marked blow for a more equal world where the last  taboo of the world's most celebrated game is finally broken.

If you liked this post you may be interested in: Homosexuality in Africa

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