UK gay rights organization Stonewall and bookmaker Paddy Power are calling on footballers to show support for their gay players by lacing up their boots with rainbow colours, Pink News reports.
Laces have been sent out to the players in all 134 professional clubs in the UK.
The campaign, “Right Behind Gay Footballers,” urges every player to wear the laces during matches on the weekend of Sept 21 and 22.
“It’s time for football clubs and players to step up and make a visible stand against homophobia in our national game. That’s why we’re working with Paddy Power on this fun and simple campaign,” says Laura Doughty, Stonewall’s deputy chief executive. “By wearing rainbow laces, players will send a message of support to gay players and can begin to drag football into the 21st century.”
A Paddy Power spokesman says football needs “a kick up the arse,” adding that it’s time the sport adopted the stance that it doesn’t matter “what team they play for.”
Queens Park Ranger player Joey Barton has already thrown his support behind the campaign, tweeting photos of himself wearing the laces and encouraging other professional players in England and Scotland to join the campaign. According to Pink News, Barton has spoken out against homophobia in the past but was summoned before an ethics committee of the French Football Association earlier in the year for transphobic remarks he made to a Paris Saint-Germain player.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA), Clarke Carlisle, has said that at least eight players have told him they are gay, with seven saying they are reluctant to go public because of the potential negative reaction of fans and media.
"We have anecdotal evidence that players are out within their clubs and don't have a problem . . . we are trying to create an atmosphere for people to come out safely, but at the moment there is a big barrier," Gay Football Supporters Network chairman Chris Basiurski has said. "The fact is, we have never really tested the fans, both home or away, on this."
Basiurski praised the Stonewall-Paddy Power campaign: “Footballers are admired for their bravery on the pitch, and we encourage them to show equal bravery off the pitch by standing up for their gay teammates. We’re delighted to see a high-profile, anti-homophobia-in-football campaign with backing from a major company."
But just recently, Oliver Kahn, a former goalkeeper for the German national team, advised gay players to stay in the closet, even as he concludes that homosexuality is not a “big deal” in society anymore.
“It may sound sad, but I wouldn’t advise [a gay player] to come out,” Kahn says, arguing that abuse from fans of opposing teams is a potential problem for gay players.