Stonewall and Paddy Power launch campaign to tackle homophobia in football
Footballers wear rainbow laces in anti-homophobia campaign
Footballers wore rainbow-coloured laces in their boots this weekend as part of an anti-homophobia campaign run by Stonewall and Paddy Power.
Rainbow laces were distributed to every professional player in the UK, and many clubs, including Arsenal, Everton and Newcastle United, wore them to show support.
There are more than 5,000 professional footballers in England, Scotland and Wales, but not a single player is openly gay. Stonewall calculates that the likelihood of this is the same as predicting the correct score in 150 consecutive football matches.
The problem is attitudes, says Richard Lane, media manager at Stonewall, adding: 'The needle on this issue hasn't moved. Attitudes around homophobia in football are not keeping up with those in society. The purpose of the campaign was to try something different and to start a national discussion.'
Support was not restricted to professional football players. Former England star Gary Lineker put his laces on to present Match of the Day, and Labour politician Ed Balls wore his to a local game. The hashtag #RBGF trended through the UK.
But the campaign did face some criticism. Its slogan 'Right Behind Gay Footballers' was branded as 'naïve' and 'insensitive' by commentators. Campaign group Football v Homophobia, who declined to be involved, criticised its 'reliance on sexualised innuendo and stereotypes about gay men.'
Lane admits that the slogan is risqué, but argues that it was necessary to spark the discussion. 'Progress hasn't been made on this issue. By pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone we had a huge cut-through to fans that we wouldn't have done otherwise. The slogan lowers the barriers to people talking.'
According to data from Precise, using its MP+ Social tool, 32,385 tweets were sent about this campaign over the past week, reaching 168 million people. Social media was invaluable, says Lane. 'The campaign was very much structured around it. The reach you can get from social media as opposed to traditional media is astronomical. It also means you can have individuals involved, so we had people tweeting their local clubs asking them to get involved'.
But many clubs did refuse to get involved with some citing commercial considerations, such as conflicting sponsorship deals, as a constraint. Others complained that they were not given enough warning - laces were sent out just days before the weekend fixtures.
Although sceptical of this reasoning ('how long does it take to change a pair of shoelaces?'), Lane insists that the campaign was entirely voluntary, and that there shouldn't be any compulsion for players to take part. 'Not wearing the laces is no reflection on a player's commitment to tackling homophobia,' he says. 'The campaign worked very well on a voluntary basis.'
In Stonewall's view, the campaign has been incredibly positive. A national discussion has been kick-started: but the work doesn't stop here. 'We're taking a long-term view,' says Lane. 'Watch this space.'