'I'm gay'
January 10th, 2014
01:38 PM ET

Does football take homophobia seriously?

The chanting in the stand starts: “Does your boyfriend know you’re here?”

There are a few laughs, not much else. It’s all been heard before.

“Stand up, ‘cos you can’t sit down.”

Yes, we’ve heard that one too.

“Town full of faggots, you’re just a town full of faggots.”

It’s not funny.

But it’s hardly a surprise is it? When the governing body of the global game awards the World Cup to a country which prohibits homosexuality, as FIFA has done with Qatar for 2022, then it is time to ask: Is anybody taking homophobia in football seriously?

FIFA president Sepp Blatter, after all, had to apologize after saying that gay people traveling to Qatar should "refrain from sexual activities." 

It is a problem which affects the very top and very bottom of the game – from those playing in the park at amateur level, where the abuse can be horrific, to the very elite we watch each and every week.

During my time reporting for national newspapers, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover Brighton & Hove Albion – one of the most impressive community clubs in English football.

Brighton, which plays in the second division, boasts a large gay, lesbian and transgender following, of which the city is rightly proud.

According to a report issued last year by the Gay Football Supporters’ Network and the Brighton & Hove Albion Supporters’ Club, the level of homophobic abuse aimed at the team’s fans is beyond vitriolic.

The report says Brighton fans suffered abuse by at least 72% of opponents it faced last season. Away games were particularly hostile, with its fans reportedly abused in 70% of fixtures, while the overall level of abuse for the entire season was 57%.

Brighton supporters have embraced their own community – they are proud of their city and what it represents: it is a beacon for those who yearn to be involved in sport and who feel free to express themselves.

Not all of those within football are as liberal.

While at CNN, I’ve written a number of pieces on gay sports stars, their stories, their struggles and their fight for equality and acceptance.

The feedback, on the whole, has been overwhelmingly positive, especially on social media and yet there is always a small, but vociferous cluster of bigots, who delight in "trolling" and registering some of the most abhorrent homophobic abuse I’ve ever read.

The comments are not worthy of repetition - they smack of ignorance and a bygone age.

Yet there is hope, if this past week is anything to by. When former Germany midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger revealed he is gay, it was met with a tidal wave of love and goodwill.

American footballer Robbie Rogers, who came out in February 2013, has enjoyed a similar experience. Although he immediately retired from football following the announcement, he returned to action three months later with the Los Angeles Galaxy.

“The initial reaction that I saw was just very supportive,” Rogers told CNN. “I was surprised by the number of people that reached out. You know, I thought it would just be like some media here and there or some negative, some positive and that would be it and then people would get over it, but it’s just been, especially when I was in London, it was huge.”

Hitzlsperger, who played 52 times for Germany, is the most high-profile football player to have come out but he only did so following his retirement.

It is a fact which rankles with football fans – why do players feel unable to come out while remaining in the game?

This is hardly a new phenomenon – it stretches back to the 1980s, as illustrated by the story of Marcus Urban, a German who was forced to give up football to live as a free, gay man.

"I realized that if I became a professional footballer, I would suffer as a man. I chose freedom over a constructed prison,” Urban told CNN last May.

"Talent is not enough. You need the will, physical fitness, good luck and a tough mentality. But what if you hide 24 hours a day because you are gay?

"The fear and pain robbed me of my energy because I was constantly thinking of what to say, how to act so people might think I was heterosexual."

Former England and Chelsea player Graeme Le Saux, who is not gay, suffered horrific homophobic abuse from fellow professionals just because he was different – educated, more reserved and preferred to read the Guardian rather than glance at topless women inside a tabloid.

His 2006 autobiography, which publicly names and shames the alleged guilty culprits, is a hard-hitting, honest and ultimately depressing tale of how the "Beautiful Game" deals with homosexuality.

Football has to take responsibility. It is churlish to claim that fans are the problem – I’ve seen enough sensible and encouraging support from the general public to know that.

It is up to FIFA and the associations of each country to clamp down on homophobic abuse in the way they do on racism, even if those sanctions appear laughable at times.

We should not be living in a society where people are forced to repress their sexuality for fear of being lambasted and made to feel inferior.

Gay, straight, black, white, Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Hindu – it doesn’t matter. We are all people, we all want to enjoy the game we love and we all have the right to do so.

CNN's "World Sport Presents: Journey of a Gay Athlete" documentary showcases the fight against homophobia in sport.Watch on Saturday Jan 11 at 0900 and 2000, Sunday Jan 12 at 0300 and 1100 (GMT).

soundoff (54 Responses)
  1. Andrea

    I hope no one goes to Qatar for world cup 2022.

    January 10, 2014 at 4:26 pm | Reply
    • Shalom

      it goes both ways , now for sure i will go to Qatar !

      January 11, 2014 at 7:20 pm | Reply
    • Gazza

      Well, that just isn't going to happen.

      January 11, 2014 at 12:36 am | Reply
  2. slippy

    I think anyone who plays this game should be wearing a skirt. Grown men running around after a ball crying about any little scratch. Come on people.

    January 10, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Reply
    • offcamp1

      Are you suggesting that being a wimp is a feminine characteristic? Perhaps FIFA needs to not only teach people about racism, but sexism too.

      January 11, 2014 at 9:52 pm | Reply
  3. Robert Moore

    You asked the question of why FIFA would award the World Cup to Qatar. You know the answer, but at the risk of stating the obvious, it is for the same reason another corrupt organization awarded the 2014 Olympic Games to Russia. Money. Both organizations are thoroughly and irredeemably corrupt and go where the bribes are. If the ruler of North Korea paid them enough money they would happily go to Pyongyang even if the government was keeping its dogs well-fed on human flesh.

    January 10, 2014 at 4:45 pm | Reply
    • marat 1

      What is most disgusting is that the very organization which is entrusted to enforce its own rules has such little concern for the minority of players who have to face the constant humiliation that they are faced with. Its TIME TO FIRE THE HEADS OF FIFA and bring in a NEW REGIME of people with the integrity and the WILL to come down HARD ON ANYONE WHO SLANDERS THOSE PEOPLE WHO IDENTIFY THEMSELVES AS GAY or Bi or ANYTHING ELSE. It is NOBODY ELSE'S BUSINESS WHO THEY CHOOSE TO LOVE IN THIS WORLD. FANS WHO TRY TO HUMILIATE THESE PLAYERS SHOULD BE INSTANTLY REMOVED FROM THE STADIUM. THIS MUST BE THE NORM FOR DEALING WITH THE HORRIFIC HOSTILITY THAT IS ALLOWED TO BE DIRECTED TOWARDS THE GAY/Bi POPULATION AND I HOPE THAT STRICT NEW RULES OF THE GAME HAVE THESE RULES EMBEDDED IN THE

      January 11, 2014 at 7:58 pm | Reply
    • theangrybaboon

      Agree with every word you said.

      January 11, 2014 at 11:42 am | Reply
    • J Bishop

      Seriously this is starting to get a little annoying. Why is the Gay agenda being forced on countries that are non-democratic. I am sorry but there are far greater problems than the "illegality" of a sexual preference. You guys have been covering this bs for sometime now. I come from a proud state where we opened up to the idea of gay marriage, however I have never seen a more ridiculous journalistic fervor for causes that are minute compared to other issues. For example: the news has been focus on Russia this whole time whilst ignoring the civil rights issues in Brazil who is going to not only host the Olympics but the World Cup. Brazil has literally turned into a police state in order to provide what they consider security for the games. These games were meant to promote friendships between countries not to be used as wedges between nations. If a country wants to bring up the issue during the games so be it, but let us not be so ridiculous as to destroy the sports ability to create bridges were dialogue between countries can be increased. So seriously I am tired of CNN and other news sources pushing this agenda on nations that have the right to choose their own destinies.

      January 11, 2014 at 4:37 am | Reply
      • Erik

        The gay agenda was not the first thing on World Cup organizers minds. Far more important to them are little hings, like infrastructure.

        January 15, 2014 at 1:57 pm |
  4. J. Geheran

    At the risk of being cited for "Islamophobia", Muslim draconian attitudes toward gender challenged humans continue to get a "free pass" from the Mass Media, Academia, Feminists, Hollywood, the White House, et al. But then again, PC reigns supreme in the West when it come to turning a blind eye to all forms of Islamic supremacism, obsessive hatred and persecution of Jews and non-believers in general. When will the world recognize Islam as a deeply flawed ideology and unite in a "Cold War" effort to confront this totalitarian movement before its goals of world domination, rule under Shari'a law and the re-establishment of a global caliphate are realized?

    January 10, 2014 at 6:09 pm | Reply
    • Gazza

      "When will the world recognize Islam as a deeply flawed ideology and unite in a "Cold War" effort to confront this totalitarian movement before its goals of world domination, rule under Shari'a law and the re-establishment of a global caliphate are realized?"

      How about NEVER? That works for me.

      January 11, 2014 at 12:33 am | Reply
  5. Javier

    I hear ya, Robbie Rogers. And it's not just football (soccer). It's everywhere. I'm an airline pilot myself, and, unlike you, I haven't had the opportunity to live and work in accepting countries. I'm from Latinamerica, which is where I've lived most of my life. It was beyond tough. It was horrible! I was outed against my will by someone I thought I could trust. It's very difficult to trust anybody ever again after something like that happening. And eventually I had to leave my country and my job. The discrimination was just too much. So I got to hand it to you for having the guts to go on national, live TV and tell your story. I, too, had no role models to look up to when growing up, and I see not much has changed in almost 20 years. Kuddos to you!

    January 10, 2014 at 6:57 pm | Reply
    • Juan

      Javier, I feel happy for you, because of that betrayal, now, you are a free man. I don't care about your sexuality, your political opinion, what you eat, your skin, or your economic position. Be happy!

      ps: maybe your soccer team can bother me...LOL

      January 10, 2014 at 11:31 pm | Reply
      • Javier

        That betrayal also destroyed a brilliant, lucrative career. It all became an uphill battle from them: a whole company of hundreds against me. And I'm sad to admit, but the bastards won. I'm still trying to pull myself back together.

        Outing someone against their will is NEVER a good thing!

        January 12, 2014 at 5:07 am |
  6. Buck

    I watch far too much football (ask my wife) and never wonder about homophobia or who might be a gay player. Do you think this homophobia/football thing is getting out of control? We all watch and love the game for its simple beauty and exciting plot lines (top of table, great players, international ramifications, etc.). I get the feeling these writers are not supporters but merely journalists reporting on the topic de jour.

    January 10, 2014 at 8:41 pm | Reply
    • J Bishop

      I agree I think this homophobia thing is getting way out of hand. This coming from a person who voted for and lived in one of the first states in the US to accept gay marriage. I think there are bigger issues like the idea of the "rule of law". But serious this whole gay push has become non-sequitur when one considers the other issues that these countries are dealing with and the true meaning of these events – to build bridges not force upon them our own political agendas.

      January 11, 2014 at 4:43 am | Reply
    • amber

      yes, the homophobic "slang" is getting way out of control. it's so common that even my younger teachers use it. and teenagers don't think twice about using gay instead of bad or lame. even coaches yell at the players to stop being a little gay faggot

      January 11, 2014 at 1:02 am | Reply
  7. dave

    This is more important than the fact that Obama has fired the Obamacare website contractor and hire another on at the tune of $90 million... This is CNN where Race and sexual orientation is the only news

    January 10, 2014 at 11:59 pm | Reply
    • Martin

      This is the World Sport blog, why would it be commenting on the Obamacare website for crying out loud? Newsflash: the whole world does not revolve around the United States and its internal health care system. CNN is accessed by people from many nations with different concerns and interests and for many this is a relevant issue and one that is rarely addressed. The whole Obamacare debacle is just another story of tedious American partisanship and the rest of the planet is bored to tears hearing about it. Should people from Europe or South America be concentrating on Obamacare 24/7, like you do? Why should they? Judging from your hissy-fit comment about why a sport blog is not reporting on Obamacare you really need to step a step back, take a deep breath and stop being so obsessed, there is a lot of other stuff going on on Planet Earth.

      January 11, 2014 at 8:11 pm | Reply
  8. Gazza

    I agree with Qatar. Perverts and deviants , pls keep a low profile, and let the normal majority simply enjoy the football without having homosexual activists trying to politicise the event.

    January 11, 2014 at 12:35 am | Reply
    • theangrybaboon

      you're not claiming to represent the "normal majority" are you there, "gazza"? Because you do sound an awful lot like you're actually representing the gold sovereign wearers and special brew drinkers of the world.
      keep the perverts and the deviants where they belong making the art, TV, movies and the clothes and keep them out the manly... i mean "beautiful" game yeah?

      January 11, 2014 at 11:59 am | Reply
    • Mark

      Well, that just isn't going to happen.

      January 11, 2014 at 4:56 am | Reply
    • sdfasdfas

      Did you know that computers were invented by a gay man and microsoft by an atheist? You better stop using this fancy gay atheist technology you have here. I mean it's only fair, since you don't want those people to have the same rights as you, why should you enjoy the fruits of their labor?

      January 22, 2014 at 5:06 am | Reply
  9. Mike

    I think it is tupid to tell the world who you are sleeping with. It is already a defitist line of thinking. I never go to the tv or radio to tell anyone that i am screwing an older lady or a beauty queen. Live your life and spare us the details. Apart from sexual orientation, why not tell the world how much responsible you are in bed and how long you last. You don't because it doesn't make sense.

    if you say things that don't make sense in the public then be prepared to get responses from people that have no sense and don't blame no one but yourself and those who encoraged you to do so. being gay or straight is not a campaign point but if you make it so, then it drops on the pondits tables.

    January 11, 2014 at 12:45 am | Reply
  10. RC

    Because the US has the world's answers for morality? Take the scales off and look around. People involved in homosexual relationships deserve the same respect as any human being, but aligning the class alongside race, gender, or religion is an absolute joke. What an inane and naive supposition.

    January 11, 2014 at 2:28 am | Reply
  11. Nick I

    Why did they? ill tell you why, who gives a crap... no ones born gay but the seeds planted from the time they are born pushes them to understand its okay... when its not really, u know man is programmed or built to take on another man, its like plugging a super nintendo controller into an xbox 360, its not ment for it... but if you force it in you can make it fit... NO a man is built and programmed for a women, they compute, they are adaptable

    January 11, 2014 at 3:04 am | Reply
  12. alain

    Would should FIFA force a country to legalize homosexuality?

    January 11, 2014 at 3:54 am | Reply
  13. apollo

    Why make homosexuality the central issue in everything? We should not bow to the failures of other people and give up the right values of humanity

    January 11, 2014 at 5:14 am | Reply
  14. Gollum

    Hahahahaha. Good question. Now let's see those-oil-rich nincompoops talk

    January 11, 2014 at 5:18 am | Reply
  15. Al-Iskander Al-Albani

    The problem is not that homosexuals are not "allowed" in Qatar. You, CNN, like to twist things very much. What is prohibited is having sexual activities IN PUBLIC – it does not matter whether hetero- or homosexual. That is the point. Nobody can control what you feel, but you should respect the nation's Laws on public behaviour.

    January 11, 2014 at 6:10 am | Reply
  16. Reezer

    I think the gays are free to be what they are. But Olympic and World cup games are not sex games. Let us keep lobbying out of the field, and our sexuality in our bedrooms.

    January 11, 2014 at 6:30 am | Reply
  17. Clayton Delaney

    I agree, in principle. Others don't need to know who you sleep with.

    That said, it's no less true that at some time or another, someone will discover your preference. It WILL get out, and if you're a public figure/celebrity, or live in a sad, repressive, sick country such as Uganda, one's gayness is even more likely to be known, and used against you. Of course, try your best to keep it to yourself, though you shouldn't have to.

    The problem is the society one lives in, and the government that prevails. I cannot imnagine the horror of living in a country where gay people risk life imprisonment, even execution, simply because they dare to be themselves. My family and I certainly wouldn't travel to or spend money in any country where being gay is a crime. Of course, remember that it wasn't that long ago that it was a crime in the US of A, and in many of the most ignorant US states gay people still cannot marry, and they are denied many, sometimes all, of the rights that heterosexual couples enjoy by default. Certainly, boycott, avoid visiting or doing business with ignorant, repressive countries, but be aware that it won't matter to them, they're just too stupid to care. Boycotting is the least you can do.

    If you care, make an effort, -DO- something. I'm a straight man, and I've twice in my life come to the aid of a gay man that was being physically assaulted. I don't just talk. How about you?.

    January 11, 2014 at 6:53 am | Reply
    • doubting tom

      If you get outed against your will run to Hollywood and become an actor or something. Come to think of it I think society frowns on abnormal acts and believe me nobody can tell me homosexual acts are normal. There's no scientific proof. Just made up stories of people being born that way. Smh

      February 16, 2014 at 4:20 am | Reply
  18. Simon

    This sexual apartheid is horrible, the gender apartheid is worse, the religious discrimination is terrible. Really people who ignore this should be ashamed, as a South African I am appalled to see the world simply accepting this nonsense. Skin color is just one difference, gays and women are people and deserve equality. All the backward fascists in these backwards Muslim countries should be facing sanctions, right now!!

    January 11, 2014 at 7:51 am | Reply
  19. victor

    please you can play football in quatar without tellin us your sexual orientation, cos we dnt care just play your game. alot of things need urgent attention in the world and not gay course.women rights!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 11, 2014 at 8:30 am | Reply
  20. Belle

    You only have to be in a different country to understand how weird it sounds to even champion for gay rights. Majority of the world doesn't approve gay-ism. I think US is the most rotten society there is....seems like abnormal is the order of the day. I guess they wish one day everyone will be gay......sounds really unpalatable every to say it

    January 11, 2014 at 8:47 am | Reply
  21. Glenn E Stockley

    FIFA is responsible for the game of football.....not anything else....especially people private lives....islam and christianity have both proven to be particularly harmful cults........:)

    January 11, 2014 at 2:07 pm | Reply
  22. Dee

    If I were a gay professional athlete, I would never come out. It just makes life much too hard. I know that is a cowards way out, but really, why borrow trouble? I see how some of the black players are treated: the monkey noises and bananas and I just shake my head because they really can't hide. The game itself is a beautiful one, but all the other stuff that comes with the sport? Not so much... and when they place these matches in parts of the world that make life openly miserable for homosexual, blacks or women? Then I really know that this is primarily a business masquerading as a sport.

    January 11, 2014 at 5:01 pm | Reply
  23. Alexander

    Only one answer: they sell the venue to the highest bidder, as always. FIFA, IOC, all the same: we are only in it for the money, la, la, la.

    January 11, 2014 at 5:25 pm | Reply
  24. Elly

    I am not a homophobe, but I do fear homosexuality, just like I fear adultery, fornication, and all forms of sexual promiscuity. That stuff gets you in harms way. To all who choose to live a gay life: God loves you. But only those who love Him back, by keeping His laws, will make it into heaven. It's as simple as that. Nobody can stop you from living your lives the way you want. But one day we all die. At the end of the road, we all face God. No law, no Obama, no United Nations, no popular gay movement, no nothing will come between you and God on that final moment between you and God. Good luck to everyone when that day comes for you...

    January 11, 2014 at 5:31 pm | Reply
  25. Jason

    If we are looking at it this way, we could have asked if the football takes peace seriously, considering they gave the world to a country in 1994, that has been behind every major war started in the modern era.

    January 11, 2014 at 5:49 pm | Reply
  26. Jamie Estevez

    If FIFA only awarded the World Cup to cities that were "gay friendly" it would no longer be the World Cup but the White Liberal European and North American Cup.

    January 11, 2014 at 6:34 pm | Reply
  27. Shalom

    Respect other countries laws , seems like we have soon to hide the fact that we are straight

    January 11, 2014 at 7:18 pm | Reply
  28. steve

    Because they would sell anything for money

    January 11, 2014 at 7:37 pm | Reply
  29. ItIsNotAPhobia

    I'm as sick of the misuse and propagandising of the word phobia, as I am of activists for 1.7% of humanity trying to bring sexual behaviors into every human event!

    Look, it isn't FEAR of homosexuality!
    It is that most of the other 98.3% of humanity find the behavior NOT ACCEPTABLE.

    And human societies are behaving very normally when they outlaw behaviors they find NOT ACCEPTABLE.

    If people of a minority, particularly when that minority is based on behavior, don't like their situation... sure they can try to change it or leave. But don't expect using propaganda to brainwash a some of the majority will work on all of the majority. And don't expect all of the majority to sit by idly while a 1.7% tries to manipulate and control the thoughts and beliefs and laws of the 98.3% majority.

    Minority control of majorities hasn't worked well in most situations throughout human history.

    January 11, 2014 at 10:21 pm | Reply
  30. dave

    you'd have to be gay to play a 90 minute game where objective is pretend to be fouled...

    January 12, 2014 at 3:05 am | Reply
  31. Nolongthing

    Let the gays have their own separate world cup and leave the rest of us alone rather than force their perversions on us.

    January 13, 2014 at 11:45 am | Reply
    • JustMe

      Cannot force the willing. Sounds to me that you want to see what is on the other side of the fence!

      January 15, 2014 at 3:11 am | Reply
  32. Aaron

    The European U21 Football Championships Cup was held in Israel in 2013 despite calls by Arab nations not to allow Israel to host the cup because of its racist policies. Sepp Blatter has repeatedly said that politics and sports should never mix. That is why he awarded the World Cup to Qatar despite Qatar's homophobic attitude.

    February 4, 2014 at 2:24 pm | Reply
  33. Aaron

    Many people ask "Why should Qatar host the cup because of its ban on homosexuality?" The problem here is that culture around the world is different. In Muslim countries, girls as young as 11 years old get married and boys as young as 15 get married. But some countries may argue – that is pedophilia. But cultures vary from country to country. The laws against recreational drugs are different around the world. In countries like Singapore and Thailand, you get the death sentence if found with drugs which are actually allowed in other parts of the world. Different countries, different rules. Some countries say homosexuality is a right, some countries say it is a criminal offence. FIFA is supposed to be neutral and does not support one set of laws over another.

    February 4, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Reply
    • Emmanuel Ocira

      Thank you Aaron. I sow a post showing a man marrying a dog. Don't be surprised if you see them also asking for recognition.

      February 5, 2014 at 6:23 pm | Reply
  34. Jonas Rimmer

    I dont understand why is CNN so obsessed with homosexualism, these last few months. Its like gay gay gay, mostly while covering Sochi. Lets turn the page already, shall we?

    March 5, 2014 at 12:07 am | Reply
  35. Dirk

    Sport should not be a instrument to be wielded by politicians. The whole idea behind these international events is to bring different countries together. Otherwise you might as well just invite the G7 countries, minus Russia maybe....

    March 14, 2014 at 8:21 am | Reply

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