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British Soccer Star Aims to End Homophobe in Sports

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Tuesday Sep 17, 2013

British Soccer star Joey Barton is urging other soccer players to join a colorful campaign that aims to end homophobia in soccer, the British newspaper Metro reports.

Barton, a midfielder, is leading the Right Behind Gay Footballers campaign and has teamed up with Irish bookmaker Paddy Power and the LGBT charity Stonewall. The group's goal is to make it easier for gay athletes to come out in soccer. As the Metro reports, there are currently no openly gay players in profession soccer leagues in the U.K.

Right Behind Gay Footballers have sent 5,000 soccer players rainbow laces they can wear this weekend to show their support for LGBT equality in sports. Barton first wore the laces in a game last weekend.

"The bureaucrats have been guilty of not taking a tough enough stance to make this issue go away. We live in quite a liberal democracy and it's incredible we're even having this conversation in 2013," the athlete told the Metro in an interview. "The modern-day footballer is quite open-minded I think. People's sexuality has become less and less of an issue. Hopefully a large number of players will get behind the campaign."

Other soccer stars have backed Barton, 31, and shown their support for LGBT rights, like Irish midfielder David Meyler, who tweeted a photo of his shoes with the rainbow laces.

"I'm supporting the #RBGF I've got the rainbow laces in my boots!" he wrote. Meyler isn't alone, however. Soccer star Keryn Seal wrote, "I definitely want to be rocking a set of the @stonewalluk rainbow laces for my next England game... Great idea. Hope the pros get behind it."

Former England midfielder Matt Le Tissier and female star Steph Houghton, who played for Great Britain during last year's Olympic Games, showed support for the cause via Twitter as well.

Barton said he wants athletes to "join the rainbow lace movement" and "sexuality in sport should not be an issue in the 21st century."

"To any gay footballers, we have to say: 'We will support you.' It's okay within society to be who you want to be but not quite so yet in football," Barton said.

The Metro reports that fans have showed their support through social media as Barton has received hundreds of responses from people interested in getting their own rainbow laces.

Barton's campaign comes days after Oliver Kahn, 44, a former German soccer goalkeeper, made controversial comments, saying gay athletes should stay in the closet. He said that pro-athletes who announce they are gay could damage their career and advised them to keep their sexual orientation a secret. Though he said being gay is no longer a "big deal" in German culture, he says it is "naïve" for an athlete to think coming out wouldn't negatively impact their career.

"It may sound sad, but I wouldn't advise him to come out," Kahn said. "The atmosphere is heated. There are rivalries, which can lead people to do nasty things. On top of that, how will it go down with sponsors? What will it mean for your career? The situation is more difficult than it appears at first glance."


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