"Wet," quips Stonewall Football Club (SFC)'s sexy star midfielder and committee
member Marc Short when asked what it's like in the showers. SFC has won several league
titles over the years and as a result of promotions is now just seven
Divisions below clubs playing in the Premier League.
"It's getting better," claims Marc hopefully. "People are far more accepting of out
LGBs within mainstream amateur sports clubs these days."
"I think a lot of people
exclude themselves for fear of what they think may happen if they came out. I know
of a few guys that were fairly happy and out at their old 'mainstream' clubs. But
I guess they were even happier when they came on board and joined us!"
Stonewall FC's Marc Short in action.
Photo by Edward Hirst.
"I'm not sure people join LGB sports clubs because they feel uncomfortable at
a 'straight' club," Short speculates. "They just feel more at ease being around
people like themselves who love football and also happen to be gay. Quite a few
SFC players have met boyfriends through the club. Some are still together - one
couple has just celebrated their fifth anniversary."
So what's it like playing and thrashing the straight boys?
"Every game is a positive experience," insists Short. "The other team realise that
these 'poofs' are actually quite good. We have had some trouble in the past, though
not too much - it normally happens when the other team are losing and pick on what
they think is weakness. Any trouble has to be reported to the Middlesex FA and
these teams would indeed be punished."
"Yes," Short teases, "we know of gay professional football players but we would
never give out names - it's not our place to. It would be great if they decided
to come out but it's still hard to come out in any situation - imagine half the
crowd slagging you off from the terraces."
"Of course it would be great to see some out players in mainstream professional
clubs. But SFC is a non-political club - our aim is simply to encourage more LGB
people to get involved in sport. Indeed, we welcome straight players at SFC - we
won't exclude anybody happy to play with us. They are an integral part and it
wouldn't be the same were they not around."
Until he retired, Jim Atkinson was one of Sport England's Senior Development
managers and, for most of his 25 years there, was the only out member of the
development staff. He also used to co-preside at the now defunct British Gay & Lesbian
Sports Federation (BGLSF).
Atkinson has also coached Out UK financial correspondent Chris Morgan - who was ranked
in the top 10 in the UK at 75 Kg in power lifting and a gold medallist at the Sydney
Gay Games. So few people in the UK can have a greater insight into gays and sport than he.|
"Sport England's Equality policy in quite clear," assures Atkinson, "both in terms of how
it treats its own staff and its public posture.
Champion Powerlifter Chris Morgan winning a Gold Medal at the Gay Games in Sydney.
"It opposes discrimination in every form - including sexuality - and promotes equality
of opportunity. I never had any difficulty being openly gay as a Sport England employee
or as a sports coach. Also, the conditions of Grant Aid which Sport England imposes
require recipients to be non discriminatory."
He continues: "Like Sport England, some of the major sports governing bodies have
also adopted Equality policies which include sexuality. The Football Association are
in the process of implementing a comprehensive Equality Policy which will obtain from
park football through to the International arena. They have involved Stonewall as well as myself in preparing drafts of this policy and consulted widely. They are to be applauded."
"Whether the FA will emphasise the sexuality bit in their press releases is doubtful,"
surmises Atkinson. "The primary issue for them is ethnicity. There have been some pretty
bad cases of racism and they are determined to address them. The press are also
hot on their tails. The FA can't be seen to be 'behind the game' on race. By contrast,
there are very few reported cases of homophobic abuse - although they know it goes on.
I think the sexuality 'bit' will be low key and will not get picked up by the media."
"There is also some sensitivity around the issue of lesbian involvement in football,"
he cautions, "and - although this is very well known and tacitly accepted - there have
been instances reported to the FA of straight women being made to feel unwelcome
within predominantly lesbian teams. This is something which the FA does not want
to be publicly vented. So yes, discrimination cuts both ways!"
Says Atkinson more generally: "There are still major issues which remain unresolved.
The big spectator sports which attract media interest are still hostage to the
inherent homophobia and ignorance of the tabloid press. The chances of a big time
player coming out are slim since they are certain in the knowledge they'd be pilloried
and abused by the 'red top' press if not the crowds."
"As for the clubs - the backbone of British sport - they have a great degree of
autonomy," he continues,"and although their parent Governing Body may have an
impeccable Equality policy the extent to which they can possibly monitor its implementation
is minimal. They simply don't have the staff on the ground. Sport England and the
Governing Bodies at National Level may therefore say all the right things but they
have little influence over the clubs at the grass roots and no influence at all over the media."
"Clearly," admits Atkinson, "if a case of homophobic abuse or discrimination is brought,
the person who has been adversely affected can appeal to the Governing Body of the
sport and expect support but how many would be prepared to confront and challenge
instances of abuse? It's easier to be invisible."
"What clearly needs to happen," he advises, "is that the responsible Sports Development
Agencies like Sport England and the National Governing Bodies of Sport adopt strong
Equality policies - and most have now done so as a condition of getting access to
Lottery funding. However, as stressed, the degree to which they can monitor the
implementation in practice is problematic."
"There also needs to be action at the grass roots," he concludes. "More national
standard athletes need to be open like Chris Morgan. He has shown great courage and
the fact that an essentially unglamorous sport like power lifting has been supportive
of him is real progress. But then Chris doesn't have a media profile, has no commercial
endorsements and makes his living as a financial adviser. Far from making money out
of sport, people like him pay to be excellent at what they do."
So to make sport everyone's game we need to follow Stonewall's lead and come together to show that we support LGBT fans and players - as fans, players, clubs, leagues, governing bodies and sponsors. Whether or not you
love sport, you can still play your part in helping the next generation of LGBT people thrive in sport by spreading the word about their Rainbow Laces campaign.
For more information about Stonewall FC or to arrange a trial visit
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