Sunday 20 August 2017

FA chairman Greg Clarke: Men's football 20 years behind women's on LGBT issues

Greg Clarke has concerns over football's approach to LGBT equality
Greg Clarke has concerns over football's approach to LGBT equality

Football Association chairman Greg Clarke believes the men's game is "probably a couple of decades" away from feeling as LGBT inclusive as the women's.

Clarke, speaking on Monday at LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) equality charity Stonewall's 'Rainbow Laces' summit at Old Trafford, said there was something "not right" about the men's game in this area.

There are currently no openly gay footballers playing in the Premier League. German midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, who featured in the division for Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton, came out after retiring.

Clarke said: "I have had conversations with the PFA and the LMA on this issue, and we have talked about how we can encourage professional footballers who want to come out to come out in a safe space.

"We are trying to engage with them, to talk to them. But to be perfectly frank, they are reticent to engage with me.

"You can talk to people from the women's game, which is inclusive, which is safe. But something about the men's game is not right because if it was right, we could have those conversations."

Clarke used the example of the atmosphere he experienced at Saturday's Women's FA Cup final in terms of LGBT inclusivity as an example of where the men's game needs to get to.

"I was at the Women's FA Cup final and it was great, inclusive - there were gay people, straight people, transgender people, and it was a wonderful occasion," Clarke said.

"For me, when the finals in the men's competitions have the same feel, we will have succeeded.

"It is about when the men's game starts to feel as inclusive as the women's game - then we are there."

When then asked how far off he thought that was, he replied: "Probably a couple of decades."

In a survey of 1,249 British sports fans commissioned by Stonewall and carried out by ICM last year, 51 per cent said they had seen or heard anti-LGBT language or behaviour in a sports setting.

Eighty-one per cent of all the incidents reported in the survey were thought to have taken place in a football context.

Towards the end of last year, Clarke said ''it would be impossible for a gay Premier League player to come out'' due to the abuse they would receive from a vocal minority in grounds and on social media.

On Monday, Clarke sought to clarify his position when asked about those comments.

"I have decided to go on a journey, to talk to sports people who have an LGBT background to find out how they felt," he said.

"All I'm saying is - my experience is that it can be a traumatic experience coming out, from the people I have talked to.

"I just think, rather than saying 'yeah, go for it, see how you get on', people in football need to understand the issues, go and talk to people who have been through it, find out what support mechanisms and processes are necessary, put them in place, and then say 'if you ever want to come out, we are ready and there with you.'

"I wasn't ever trying to demonise the fans at all - it is not their issue, it's just there is more of them than any other group."

He added: "We are working with the Premier League, the EFL, the national game to make sure we stamp out incidents of homophobia, and we are working on inclusion policies. I'm very positive - but we have got to not take progress for granted.

"I think football, as one of the leading national sports, has an obligation to behave properly and in an inclusive fashion, and not talk a good game, but deliver positive outcomes for the LGBT community.

"We need to make sure we penalise bad behaviour and reward good behaviour, train people, work with people behind the scenes, make sure inclusion happens, make sure people who want to come out feel safe.

"But that is not going to be cracked in six months."

Press Association

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