With reports of a same-sex couple, is the Premier League ready to embrace its LGBTQIA+ players?

By Mason Berlinka

Published Nov 23, 2022 at 10:52 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

When I was at school, the football pitch was the last place I wanted to be. It wasn’t exactly my scene—I was far removed from the macho and the masculine. The kind of language I heard from the footie lads was the same sort of behaviour reflected by the professionals on national TV.

Sure, football can be a welcoming and unifying community for many, but this isn’t often the case for those who operate outside of the binary. As a sport, it has long excluded those from LGBTQIA+ backgrounds. However, this might be about to change.

Football’s prejudiced history with gay rights

It’s not hard to trace football’s dark past with gay rights. A quick Google search presents an incident from 1990, where a sexual assault case and prejudice from teammates led openly gay footballer Justin Fashanu to suicide. Fashanu has since been inducted into the Hall of Fame for his bravery and has a foundation set up in his name to tackle prejudice in the sport.

Further research will lead you to an incident from 2002, where ex-Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari claimed that he’d have thrown a player out of the team if he’d discovered they were gay. Today, Jake Daniels is the only openly gay player in one of the Premier League’s top four divisions, and it’s not hard to see why so few choose to come out when restricted by an often highly-judgemental and sometimes toxic sport.

Football has long been a difficult space for male self-identity and respect, but the last few years have seen a great attempt at shifting its attitudes. Controversy around Qatar aside, football is trying its very best to clean up its act. Through this, we have seen a great shift in attitudes towards racism in the sport, especially among English supporters, and a shift in sexist attitudes greatly aided by the Lionesses winning the Women’s EURO. Next on the docket for this cultural unifying tradition is its attitude towards the LGBTQIA+ movement.

For the first time ever, there’s word of a same-sex couple in the Premier League

Former English footballer and current sports broadcaster Gary Lineker stated in October 2022 that he personally knows two gay Premier League players who have concealed their romantic relationship from the public. The fact that we’re even here in terms of openness is quite amazing on its own, but there’s so much more work to be done. Allegedly close to coming out, Lineker said that a debut during the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup would be “amazing” and would send an impactful and meaningful message to fans of the game around the world.

The former football pro went on to mention that the pair has come out to their teammates, and that locker room attitudes towards them haven’t changed. It’s safe to say that everyone is on their side. This is so refreshing and comforting to hear, that they are completely respected as a team—and that progress is being made.

What is important to consider is that these players should not be “witch-hunted.” This sentiment has been reaffirmed by former England player Rio Ferdinand, who has previously stated this would be the absolute worst way to combat homophobia in the sport. These players need to come out on their own terms, in their own time. Everyone’s safety must be prioritised despite the impact these grand gestures and statements could have on the game.

Debuting at the Qatar World Cup would be a scary prospect. It should be noted that all it took for England captain Harry Kane to back down from wearing the OneLove armband was to threaten him with the prospect of a yellow card—not the most courageous of protests. That being said, who knows what sort of complications they could face in Qatar as a result of publicly announcing their relationship during the tournament.

Homosexuality is punishable by prison time and sometimes even death in Qatar. The fact that the World Cup went ahead without much protest in a country violating basic human rights is shocking and leaves a lot to be said about how earnest our own countries and teams are in supporting their people.

To have such big names in the football world like Ferdinand and Lineker openly voicing their love and support for these players is a great sign that, ultimately, steps are being taken to improve the sport’s  relationship with the queer community—although I doubt we’ll see anything progress during the World Cup in Qatar. As long as there’s money greasing pockets, everyone just closes their eyes and toughs it out. As per usual.

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