Moment that mattered: England cricketer Steven Davies comes out
My initial reaction to Steven Davies’s announcement that he is gay was to be unbelievably happy – it’s really good to have any sports people come out. It briefly brought the issue of homophobia in sport into the mainstream, and journalists who have never even touched the issue before were talking about it. Interestingly, there wasn’t much controversy around the announcement, which is positive. The attitude has obviously improved: we’ve had gay cabinet ministers, businesspeople and cultural figures. England is a comparatively progressive place, and cricket is quite different to football in terms of its audience.
When it comes to football the issue of gay players hasn’t been properly addressed. The culture of English football is tinged with casual homophobia. Terms like “banter” – which I hate – are often used to justify homophobic or racist abuse in football. I often go to games and even in the apparently more sophisticated areas of grounds, I hear homophobic comments all the time. Often you think about young fans who may be questioning their own sexuality, and it isn’t a very welcoming environment for them.
Anton Hysén (the Swedish footballer who came out on 9th March) was a surprise to us. There haven’t been any openly gay footballers since Justin Fashanu, so that’s incredibly positive. Gay players will obviously be closely monitoring how Hysén is treated. He’s playing at a comparatively low level in Sweden, and it would be doubly interesting if a more high-profile player came out, to see how he would handle the big stadiums and the passionate crowds. It is inevitable that a UK footballer will come out sooner or later – but that won’t end the issue. Even if there were ten openly gay players, homophobia in football wouldn’t disappear.
Hopefully, the more high-profile players who do come out, the more positive influence there will be on the game at all levels. But the real action has to come from the authorities to show that homophobia isn’t tolerated any more. They have taken extremely positive steps in terms of racism, but hardly anything has been done to address homophobia. Even after Justin Fashanu’s suicide almost nothing was done – I think that indicated how low on their list of priorities the issue was at the time. The Justin Campaign has entered into a partnership with the FA. For us it is a big and positive step. Our plan is to reach out to county FAs and educate them, helping the FA to improve the coverage of the issue in terms of the numbers of campaigns. It’s a slow process, but there is a definite momentum and it’s about keeping the pressure up. It didn’t take long after Davies and Hysén for the media frenzy to die down, and it’s up to us to keep the pressure on the authorities, the clubs and the media.
Alan Duffy is Director of Communications at The Justin Campaign (www.thejustincampaign.com)
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