In a report published on, Sunday 12 February 2017, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee says fans who display homophobic attitudes at matches should face immediate, lengthy bans on attending games. It says the sports authorities must adopt a zero tolerance approach to homophobic abuse at all levels of sport. Football clubs in particular are not doing enough and should take a tougher approach, issuing immediate one to two year bans in the first instance to indicate clearly that homophobic behaviour will not be tolerated.
A recent Stonewall survey reported that 72% of football fans have heard homophobic abuse, and it is notable that there is not one “out” footballer in the men’s professional game.
The Committee found some examples of good practice for example in rugby: when Welsh international rugby referee Nigel Owens was subjected to ‘foul-mouthed, racist, homophobic abuse’ at a match the two fans involved were banned for two years and ordered to pay £1,000 to a charity of Owens’ choice.
But despite this type of positive action by a number of governing bodies, the committee concluded that attitudes in sport across all levels - and especially in football - are out of step with wider society. The committee said that homophobic abuse is still too often allowed to pass unchallenged. The Committee was particularly disturbed by the inclusion of Tyson Fury in the shortlist for BBC Sports Personality of the Year and this became one of the spurs for conducting the inquiry. The Committee has queried the judgment of BBC executives in including Fury on the shortlist despite him making a series of violently homophobic remarks.
In British football, where there are currently no openly gay male players in the professional leagues, the committee said that more should be done to show support for athletes who want to come out. This could include clubs and major sportswear brands stating their support for gay athletes and writing into their agreements with players, that there would be no termination or downgrading of their contracts as a result of a player coming out.
Nigel said: “A zero tolerance approach to homophobic abuse is absolutely a step in the right direction and sends a clear message that homophobia in sport is unacceptable, and is no longer being ignored. Much more needs to be done to address homophobic attitudes in sport and authorities need to create an environment in which athletes feel comfortable coming out, and can be secure in the knowledge that they will be supported in doing so.”