The good, the bad and the confusing from the world of football

Today’s post is packed with news, photos, and information from the world of soccer activism, so carve 20 minutes out of your day to catch up on these dispatches.

First, the good news: Tomorrow is February 19, the day of the Football v. Homophobia Initiative, an international day opposing homophobia in football, organized by The Justin Campaign. My conversation with Campaign Director Darren Ollerton started a few weeks ago when I interviewed him about the Initiative. In the weeks since, he’s brought me up to speed on a bunch of football-related happenings, and a second, follow-up interview appears below.

Related goodness: The Justin Campaign and the Football v. Homophobia Initiative are gaining traction in the press due partly to their great use of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and partly to their fresh and imaginative efforts. Witness my favourite image from this past week, taken from the Football v. Homphobia fan page:

Look at the Norwich ladies Knit against homophobia!! Here they are making scarves for Football v Homophobia on February 19th.

Look at the Norwich ladies knit against homophobia!! Here they are making scarves for Football v Homophobia on February 19th.

I kind of want to submit this Cute Overload. For more, read how the knitting project was covered by the Norwich Evening News.

The other big story this week has to do with the production, cancellation, leak, and reaction to an anti-homphobia film commissioned by the FA in the UK. For some background, go here and check out the Update box at the bottom of the page.

It’s no secret that homophobia in football (soccer) is a huge problem. The culture of football fandom in the UK has traditionally included songs and chants that are racist and homophobic. Public education campaigns have had some success in changing attitudes around racism – success that the anti-homophobia activists were hoping to mirror with the Kick it Out film. So what happened?

From what I can tell, the FA worked with the organization Kick it Out to produce the film but right before it was to be released the project was canned. Cue the controversy: no prominent players would endorse the film, the script uses homophobic slurs, and the budget (a paltry £10,000) was slim to begin with.  Then, unexpectedly, the film showed up online on the Kick it Out website (under the headline: ELTON JOHN GIVES HIS BACKING TO HARD HITTING AD) along with an editorial, and on YouTube:

The release sparked a flood of stories in the British press about institutionalized homphobia and whether or not it’s safe for gay footballers to come out. That this is taking place in the week before the Football v. Homophobia Initiative spurred me to follow-up with Darren Ollerton.

KS: The media (The Guardian, The Age, The Telegraph) are reporting that the English Football Association “delayed” or “postponed” the release of an anti-homophobia film that was prepared as part of their anti-homophobia initiative. Last week the story was that the film had been “canned” – that it was not going to be released at all. Do you have any idea what is going on behind the scenes here?

DO: Around two years ago the FA announced plans to produce a video to tackle homophobia in football. The Justin Campaign received an invite to it’s launch on February 11th but shortly before that date it was announced that the FA were postponing the launch as they wanted time to review their strategy… The LGBT community in the UK were obviously confused [as we] were under the impression that work had been progressing for a number of years…

The video in question was subsequently leaked by an insider, [and] the FA have u-turned slightly and published the video on their website.

KS: What are your thoughts on the film? Do you think it will be effective? Do you think it should be aired? What about the criticism that it is too graphic, too disturbing?

DO: Whether it should be aired or not is irrelevant now really. It’s all over the media!!

Here at The Justin Campaign we often use the negative language used to describe LGBT people to educate youth and adults on what is acceptable/whats not and how their language impacts on others around them. The language contained within the video is not what concerned us, unfortunately that’s the reality of homophobic abuse on the terraces at the moment.

In the video there are two scenarios, one where a white middle aged objectionable male uses homophobic language in a workplace and then in contrast uses homophobic language at a football match. The tag line used is: “It isn’t acceptable here, so why is it acceptable here?”

It’s our opinion that this is entirely the wrong message. The FA has a social responsibility to put across the message that homophobia is unacceptable in all forms, everywhere. This isn’t something that should be left open to debate.

KS: The press has reported widely on out NBA player John Amaechi’s statement that he woul advise gay footballers not to come out. According to Amaechi, coming out in football would be akin to being Joan of Arc. “[T]hat is what would happen: they would get burned at the stake. And how does that help anyone?” Care to comment on this perspective?

DO: I think in a lot of senses Amaechi is right but I think we will only know for sure when it actually happens. Just look at what happened to Justin Fashanu… If the environment had changed in the years since his death I suppose I wouldn’t be answering these questions.

KS: While the onus may or may not be on the players to come out, what about the queer and queer-friendly football supporters? What can we do?

DO: Be visible. Let your local clubs know you’re there, set up your own queer fan clubs, organise matches between your own “queer” teams and other community teams, use football to bridge the gap between disparaged communities. Homophobia is perpetuated throughout sport mainly because queer culture is not visible either within it or around it. By being visible and staking your right to support and enjoy the games that you love, the relevant authorities will eventually have to listen.

Write Blogs, Post links, Write Letters and Campaign – anything that gets the message out there.

KS: This Friday February 19 is the Football v Homophobia Initiative day, an Initiative organized by the Justin Campaign. Some ideas for participation exist on the web site, but are there any last-minute tips for those wanting to get involved or show their support?

DO: Spread the word – email me for a high res copy of our logo, get a few copies printed on your home computer and stick them up around your local community. Join the facebook group! Follow us on Twitter! Donate! And of course stay in touch and lets make something happen in your area next year.

KS: There must be a lot going on this Friday. Can supporters follow the festivities online?

DO: I’ll be tweeting and facebooking throughout the day – Our website will be updated with all the events and images once we have had chance to collate them all.

I’d love to hear from you on these items. What do you think about the film? Do you think it is an effective response to the issue? Could it be better?

And how will you celebrate the Football v. Homophobia Initiative tomorrow? I have been in touch with some of you who have planned matches for this weekend. Send your pictures to me directly and I will write up your events next week.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The good, the bad and the confusing from the world of football

  1. Noelle

    Wow. What a great interview. You and Darren clarified everything I was wondering about the Justin Campaign and the controversy about the FA/Kick it Out commercial spot.

    Truly enlightening.

    I did snag on one part… Darren’s criticism of the commercial’s tag:

    “It isn’t acceptable here, so why is it acceptable here?”

    Darren stated that it’s his organization’s opinion that “this is entirely the wrong message. The FA has a social responsibility to put across the message that homophobia is unacceptable in all forms, everywhere. This isn’t something that should be left open to debate.”

    To be honest, that argument seems a bit semantic.

    This is a commercial spot. And spots always work better when they cause you to think about an issue (or a product) in a new way. It’s a largely held belief in advertising that asking a question at the end of a spot is the most effective way to do this (as opposed to making a full-stop statement).

    I think the message of the add comes across loud and clear. Whether or not it’s effective enough to stop rowdy soccer spectators from slinging homophobic slurs during heated footy matches is up for debate. I’d wager that it’s not. Simply because that’s way too big a paradigm shift for one commercial spot to tackle. Which I gather, is the major criticism of the FA’s lame-o campaign.

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