BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — The head of the Football Association (FA) says gay players shouldn't be afraid to be open about their sexuality in the wake of the governing body's agreement on an action plan to combat homophobia and racism.
David Bernstein, who says that ensuring the game is inclusive and non-discriminatory tops his agenda, says the FA continues to "strengthen our support programmes to ensure the game is open to all regardless of their sexuality," The Daily Mail reports.
The plan's provisions include sanctions for clubs if they repeatedly fail to penalize employees "who breach their contract or code of conduct, or deal inadequately with fans in relation to discriminatory language or behaviour." The FA also wants to establish an "Inclusion Advisory Board" to oversee the action plan and intends to call on the Union of European Football Asscociations (UEFA) "to consider minimum standard codes of conduct" as part of its club licensing system.
"Players and coaches arriving from abroad will have to undergo mandatory induction lessons to ensure they are aware of the 'British cultural environment,'" The Mail states.
In addition, Bernstein notes, the FA has to "find more ways of developing more black and ethnic minority coaches and creating pathways for them."
The Premier League, Football League, Professional Footballers' Association (PFA), the League Managers' Association (LMA) and referees' bodies all agreed on the plan, which now passes to the government.
According to a Sept 19 government report, "evidence is now emerging that homophobia may now be a bigger problem in football than other forms of discrimination. Recent research found that 25 percent of fans think that football is homophobic while 10 percent think that football is racist. About 14 percent of recent match attendees also reported hearing homophobic abuse."
The government report called on the FA to "work with relevant organisations and charities to develop and then promote a high-profile campaign to highlight the damaging effect of homophobic language and behaviour in and around football at every level. The campaign should identify sources of support for affected individuals as well as setting out a clear reporting structure for homophobic incidents."
Culture Secretary Maria Miller welcomed the FA's move. "We want to see this action plan implemented and the football authorities to show strong leadership on anti-discrimination at both the professional and grassroots levels of the game."
Some comments at the end of the Daily Mail story suggest that Bernstein is naive to believe things will be fine if gay players decide to come out, one reader saying that they will "get terrible abuse from the terraces."
"What world does this guy live in, its bad enough being black, with the abuse they can get from the crowd, for a footballer to openly announce he is gay, my god its frightening what abuse he would get, none of the abuse is justified what ever the circumstances but nobody will ever stop it, don't make it worse than it is Mr Berstien!!" another reader writes.
Landing image: FA.com