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Activists hope FA plan will 'move the needle' on homophobia in football

Gay rights campaigners have welcomed the Football Association's plans to tackle homophobia in the British sport but call for more action not words
Graeme Le Saux and Stonewall's Ben Summerskill at FA's Action Plan launch
Photo by Matthew Jenkin

Gay rights campaigners have welcomed the Football Association's plan to tackle homophobia in the English game, but want stronger deterrents.

The six-point action plan outlines ways in which the sport will combat the increasingly high profile problem of homophobic abuse, both among players and fans, from greater education and raising awareness, to better reporting of abuse.

'The reality is that homophobia does exist and it’s completely unacceptable,' said Alex Horne, the FA's general secretary, at the scheme's launch at London's Wembley Stadium today.

'We have had a clean-up with regards to other areas of discrimination and now is the time to focus on homophobia and transphobia, and ensure that isn’t a barrier to people who want to get involved in playing the game.'

The Gay Football Supporters' Network (GFSN) and rights group Stonewall have both welcomed the FA's plan.

However, speaking at the event, Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill said he hoped tangible results would be seen.

He said: 'We think the action plan is incredibly important, as long as this moves the needle. 

'It’s about actually demonstrating if things go wrong, they will be dealt with.'

He added that for more gay footballers to come out there needs to be a professional environment where homophobia is taken seriously.

Also speaking on the event's panel of experts, retired footballer Graeme Le Saux echoed Stonewall's concerns, saying that while he supports the FA and premier league authorities, he wants something to be done about the problem.

Despite being straight, Le Saux was dogged by gay rumors during his playing career, leading to abuse from opposition fans and even players.

He said: 'I want to know what the punishments are. Gay people want to know what’s going to happen if someone’s vitriolic abuse is allowed to continue and that’s the challenge we face because it’s on a massive scale.'

Darren Bailey, The FA's director of football governance and regulation, insisted this was the beginning in a shift in attitude in the sport, but stressed the importance of better reporting of abuse.

He claimed the FA already has sufficient regulations and sanctions to deal with homophobia.

'Homophobic abuse is an aggravated offence and the sanction could be automatically doubled. For a second offence, it will be trebled,' he said.

He added: 'In a professional game, depending on the circumstances, the sanctions could range from £6,000 to £24,000 and match ban.

'If the conduct continues, permanent suspension could be contemplated.'

But human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said the FA's plan does not go far enough in dealing with the problem, calling it 'vague' and 'low-key'.

He said: 'To set the agenda and reach the fans, the Football Association should be pressing clubs to include anti-homophobia messages on tickets, in match programmes and on stadium screens at half-time. 

'This would ensure the FA's new initiative gets high-profile visibility and impacts public consciousness.'

Tatchell, who has campaigned against football homophobia for the last two decades and sat on the FA's anti-homophobia working party, also expressed concern that the FA and clubs still have no plans in place to support players who come out.

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