Tag Archives: The Justin Campaign

Soccer really can make the world a better place

This blog got some press recently in “The Great Game,” an article published in the July 2010 issue of INToronto Magazine. I was interviewed by writer Scott Dagostino during a World Cup viewing party at Downtown Soccer Toronto sponsor bar Gladaman’s Den.

Not to get all misty about it but soccer really can make the world a better place.
– Me, being emo.

I’d blame the histrionics on the beer (or goalie Green’s epic fumble), but you all know I really feel that way. And to prove that I’m right, my name – and Downtown Soccer Toronto’s – also appeared in a press release this week announcing that the membership of Downtown Soccer Toronto has chosen The Justin Campaign as the charity recipient of partial proceeds of our 2010/2011 calendar (for sale at the DST booth on Church just north of Isabella this Pride Toronto weekend). Named after out gay footballer Justin Fashanu, The Justin Campaign seeks to challenge homophobia in football (soccer) through education and programs including the Football v Homophobia Initiative. See? Better place.

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Come out, come out, wherever you are

Regular readers will know that these pages have been dedicated recently to reporting on the emerging “controversy” about gay footballers. It began with some publicity about The Justin Campaign’s Football v Homphobia Initiative (and other good gay works) and then a comment made by gay basketballer John Amaechi in his blog and to the world press. Amaechi’s position was that coming out was too hard, that  it positioned the player as “Joan of Arc”. To Amaechi, coming out is too risky; it’s simply too much to ask.

I have kept my opinion on this pretty much to myself. You guys are smart people. You can make up your own minds.

However… on March 12, 2010 another story broke. “Fury as German ex-football boss says: ‘There’s no place in football for gays’,” reads the headline on the U.K.’s Daily Mail. In the piece, former football manager Rudi Assauer asserts that while there may be a place for gays in other sports, gay footballers should “find something else to do.” But lookie here: Assauer only has our well-being in mind. “That’s because those who out themselves always end up busted by it, ridiculed by their fellow players and by people in the stands. We should spare them these witch-hunts.”

When did this kind of paternalism become acceptable? When did urging queer players to remain closetted “for our own good” start to make sense? You know something has gone horribly, dementedly wrong when out gay athletes like John Amaechi are parroting the sentiments of bigots like Assauer.

So cut it out! For every sad example of the destructive effect of homophobia (i.e. Fashanu’s suicide) there is another story that teaches us about acceptance, diversity and the unifying power of sport. The most notable recent example is that flaming, unapologetic queen Johnny Weir. To him, I raise a glass and say, “Giiiiirl!” What’s that? It’s different because he’s a skater? What about Greg Louganis (Olympic diver), Marc Leduc (Olympic boxer), and Tom Waddell (Olympic decathlete and creator of the Gay Games)? You want your gays butcher? I give you Martina Navratilova and Sheryl Swoopes. And if gays can play rugby (Bravo, Gareth Thomas, for risking the witch-hunt!), surely we can play soccer/football. It is, after all, “the beautiful game”.

So to all the players in every sport that are brave enough to be themselves, keep it up. This Joan of Arc stuff is nonsense. If Assauer and his ilk want to spare us the witch-hunts, they’ll put down their pitchforks and torches instead of asking us to hide behind the castle gates. Come out, come out, wherever you are! I’m pretty sure there’s a kickabout happening at a park near you and I, for one, can’t wait to see how you look in that jersey.

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“Proud of playing clean, quality soccer and proud of being out gay athletes.”

This blog was not yet a twinkle in my eye when I travelled to London, UK to participate in the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association’s annual World Cup tournament in 2007. That year I had the good fortune to play on a team comprised of players from Washington, DC, Philadelphia and Toronto, all under the banner of the Washington Federal Triangles team (they supplied the crisp white unis for which I am ever-grateful; I look as handsome as I ever have in that team picture). It was on this team that I met my partner in do-goodery Craig, aka Lady Kennaway. Thus the seeds for this blog and the adventures herein were sewn on the pitches at Regents Park.

Deservedly, Craig has gotten a lot of press here but I met some other extraordinary people that week too. People like Dennis Fish, the vice-president of the Federal Triangles. I remember Dennis most for his energy, humour, and one of the finest hair-dos DC has to offer.

Dennis is also extremely organized. I found out about the Football v. Homophobia Initiative a little too late to organize any games here in Toronto but not so Dennis. Working with The Justin Campaign organizers, Dennis and his team the FTSC (Federal Triangles Soccer Club) Dixie Kicks arranged to play their regularly-scheduled Saturday game at the Fairfax Sportsplex in Springfield, VA wearing their pink and black Football v. Homophobia T-shirts.

The Dixie Kicks support the Football v. Homphobia Initiative, February 19, 2010

The Dixie Kicks support the Football v. Homophobia Initiative, February 19, 2010

Dennis was kind enough to talk to me about the experience of “coming out” for a cause at his local sports facility.

K.S.: Tell me about your team and what it was like to participate in this event.

D.F.: We’re the FTSC Dixie Kicks.  We play coed, indoor soccer during the winter at the Fairfax Sportsplex in Springfield, VA.  We’ve been playing for the last three years, roughly.  Most of our team is made up of gay and lesbian players, but we do have at least one straight player.

Before I committed us to anything, I emailed the team and asked if they were comfortable playing in “Football v. Homophobia” regalia.  I actually didn’t think the response would be as positive as it was.  Everyone was excited about it.

It felt really amazing playing in our [Initiative] shirts.  We’ve never really made an issue of our being a gay team at the Fairfax Sportsplex, so in a sense, it was our “coming out”! Everyone on the team was super-pumped and proud. Proud of playing clean, quality soccer, and proud of being out gay athletes. Even our one straight player was just thrilled and could not have been more proud of her teammates.

K.S.: What was the reaction at the SportsPlex?

D.F.: The Sportsplex was great.  I contacted the league director beforehand, and she was fine with it.  The referee at our game was very cool, and even complimented our shirts and said it was a good thing we were doing.

K.S.: Why is it important to “come out” in this way? Does it matter if the other teams in that league know that you are gay?

D. F.: FTSC teams have been playing at the Fairfax Sportsplex for years.  And I’m not sure if we’ve ever officially “come out” before.  At the same time, we’ve never denied who we are.  But, I thought the “Football v. Homophobia” event was the perfect opportunity to just be ourselves and play in support of this good cause.

I have no  problem with other teams knowing I’m gay. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’m who I am.

The final word today goes to Amal Fashanu, Justin Fashanu’s niece, who participated in the Initiative and gave an interview to the BBC about the Justin Campaign (click to see video of the interview).

[The Justin Campaign] is the first sign [of] moving towards a better football, a better game where everyone can be more open and who they want to be.
– Amal Fashanu

Amen, sister.

To learn more or to contribute to the Justin Campaign, visit their site at www.thejustincampaign.com.

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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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Football v Homophobia: get involved with the Initiative from the Justin Campaign

It’s a World Cup year and football is on everyone’s lips. Despite the predictably dour pronouncement of six more weeks of winter, I’ve been cleaning out the kit bag and slapping the dirt off my cleats while the season unfolds outside my window. Green shoots will push their way from under the hard-packed dirt of Withrow park again, and when the time comes, I’ll be warmed up.

Turns out, I’m not the only one dreaming of the pitch. Some of you are preparing to take the long flight to South Africa to watch a Cup match in one of the many spanking new stadia that have been erected across the country. My South African friends gloat about the busy building and planning, the hum of industry that is taking place while the country explodes into the throes of summer. I grudgingly follow their status updates, icy fingers poking out from under the perimeter of my Snuggie, consoling myself with the thin comfort that at least I don’t have a sun burn.

It’s no secret that I have fallen in love with this game, that it has become a setting in which to base my personal plot. I have discovered my own effectiveness out in the world by doing what soccer players do: following the ball. I acknowledge that it’s easier to speak glowingly of the game I love than to be critical, but there is a damaging, divisive side that should not go unchallenged. In many parts of the world, girls are still not welcomed to play. And homophobia is still entrenched – a default position enforced through insensitive game chants and song in England and other parts of the world. Happily, I am discovering a movement, a revolution of like-minded soccer activists who are putting their backs into the task of keeping this game beautiful.

During this grey February, Darren Ollerton is also dreaming about the pitch. Darren is the Director of The Justin Campaign, the organization behind the Football v Homophobia Initiative which is designating February 19 as “one day out of each year where fans, players and clubs can express their dissaproval of homophobia in the beautfiul game.”

Recently I caught up with Darren to get the skinny. Excerpts from our interview are below:

KS: Who was Justin Fashanu and why have you chosen to name your campaign after him?

DO: Justin Fashanu was an English footballer who played for quite a variety of clubs between the years 1978 and 1997. His 1981 transfer to Nottingham Forest FC made him the UK’s first million pound black footballer and he was awarded the BBC Goal of the season award in 1980 for an absolutely incredible (incredibly impossible) goal against Liverpool FC. For all of his talent Justin Fashanu is unfortunately chiefly remembered for two things: one, being the first and only out gay professional footballer; and two, for committing suicide.

The Justin Campaign was launched ten years after Fashanu’s suicide. [Since then] his name [has only been] surfacing as a warning to other football players contemplating being more open about their sexuality. We use Justin Fashanu to spearhead our campaign because…he still remains the only out gay professional football player in history [and] we think that demonstrates a significant problem with homophobia in the game.

KS: What is the mission of the Justin Campaign?

DO: The Justin Campaign will continue to Challenge, Involve, Educate and Represent, until the visibility of gay and bisexual players in professional football is accepted and celebrated… Challenge homophobia, stereotypes and misconceptions; Involve all regardless of sexuality, gender, religion, race, disability, ability or background; Educate clubs, coaches, youth, players and fans; and Represent the under-represented in football, Represent the LGBT community.

KS: What is the Football v Homophobia Initiative?

DO: Football v Homophobia is an opportunity to raise awareness of homophobia in amateur and professional football; to unite clubs, players and fans internationally by using the game of football to bring communities together in opposing hate and intolerance in the world’s favourite sport.

It as much a celebration as it is a day of protest, it’s about showing the rest of the world that different communities can enjoy the sport together, It’s about different teams, from different faiths, cultures, backgrounds and creeds, of different gender, race and sexuality. Celebrating our diversity and our individuality but brought together by the common love of football.

KS: How can people – particularly those in North America – get involved in the Initiative?

DO: In so many ways!! Organise a football match or even a tournament with teams in your area! It doesn’t have to be a huge event! Use the Football v Homophobia logo to promote the Initiative! Speak to your local press, local community groups, other sports teams and organisations about Football v Homophobia. Organise a sports pub quiz, inform your local professional soccer clubs and ask them to host the initiatives logo on their website with a message of support. Make a donation to Football v Homophobia or buy one of our badges to ensure the growth of this initiative annually. Check out our website www.thejustincampaign.com and speak to the team who are more than happy to help you develop any ideas you may have about your involvement.

KS: What’s your favourite position?

DO: We are talking about football, aren’t we?

KS: Naturally.

DO: Defense!!

So there you have it – mark your calendars for February 19, and contact your locals leagues to see what they’re doing to support this event. In the meantime, follow the Initiative on Facebook and Twitter.

UPDATE: Yesterday Darren Ollerton forwarded this blog post written by ex-NBA baller John Amaechi in which he discusses the circumstances surrounding the FA’s anti-homophobia video. An excerpt from the post: “The FA & the Premier league through Kick It Out are trying to address the symptoms and not the cause of the problem of prejudice and bigotry – and do it as cheaply as possible!  The importance of LGBT fans and players to the high echelons of football can be summed up by the £10,000 budget for the entire anti-homophobia project.” An interesting read.

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