Three years ago Gareth Thomas, the former rugby international, started campaigning to change the law to make homophobia at football matches illegal or include homophobia in the Football Offences Act 1991 highlighting the issue in a documentary Gareth Thomas –v- Homophobia: Hate in the Beautiful Game. Giambrone’s LGBT division Gay Lawyers had the privilege of assisting in the campaign by drafting a Code of Conduct for the guidance of football clubs that Gareth Thomas offered to the management of football clubs in an attempt to eradicate unacceptable homophobic behaviour from their clubs. Gabriele Giambrone, group managing partner, was interviewed by Gareth Thomas in the documentary to outline the legal position.
Gareth was able to generate sufficient interest to for a private members Bill started to make its way through Parliament aimed at amending the law to make it illegal to chant or otherwise deliver homophobic abuse at football matches, regrettably other pressing matters such as Brexit intervened causing parliamentary time to run out before the Bill could be debated.
The Government has announced its intention to amend the Football Offences Act 1991to make homophobia such as homophobic chants by the crowd an offence, a decision arising from a report released by the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) illustrated the extremely slow progress currently being made to rid the sport of homophobic behaviour, which considerably lags behind the progress made in eradicating racial discrimination. Football seems to have the reputation of being the least tolerant sport towards gay players and there is a conspicuous absence of professional footballers in any football division who have publicly announced that they are gay, with exception of Liam Davis of Cleethorpes Town. However, the lack of tolerance appears to be biased towards men’s football as ladies’ football seems to be far more accepting.
Previous reports investigating racism in sport conducted by the earlier Culture, Media and Sport Committee concluded that homophobia was a much bigger problem than any other type of discrimination. Football clubs, in particular, were singled out as not doing enough and a tougher approach should be taken. It was suggested that issuing immediate one to two year bans in the first instance to indicate clearly that homophobic behaviour will not be tolerated. Match officials have a front line role and should have a clear duty to report and document any kind of abuse at all levels. The changes should come from the grassroots up and a zero tolerance of homophobic abuse at youth level, whether by players or parents, should be stamped out. Research at the time found that 25% of fans thought that homophobia was present in football, compared to 10% who thought that racism was.
There appears to be a lack of desire or interest in addressing the question of homophobia in football from the top. If the law is amended it must be accompanied by robust sanctions for the abusive individuals and the football clubs themselves so that there is sufficient motivation to ensure that the football clubs will actually enforce the law.