We are working hard to create a “so what?” culture in the game so that a professional player can feel comfortable to be open about their sexuality whilst still playing football.
In the last decade only two players who have played in the English Leagues have come out, both only once they had stopped playing. Robbie Rogers (previously of Leeds United) and Thomas Hitlzberger (previously of Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton).
The PFA have been working with both players to ensure we have a support network in place when and if another footballer comes out.
Both Robbie and Thomas spoke of the over-whelming support that they got from across the world following their decisions to come out and we applaud them as pioneers. We are pleased that Robbie Rogers subsequently felt that he continue in the game and now plays for LA Galaxy in the MLS.
Everyone has the right to be themselves and as the players union we are at the forefront of creating a climate of acceptance for LGBT players.
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What are the PFA doing in this area?
- We are delivering Diversity Training, along with Kick It Out, to young players aged 16-18. The training covers discrimination, barriers and stereo-types that still exist in the game. We explore ways to break down those barriers and stereo-types and look at the effects of discrimination. The training covers all strands of equality including gender, faith, race and sexuality. It has been marked as Outstanding by a recent Ofsted Inspection.
- We are working with Show Racism the Red Card to produce an anti-homophobic DVD for schools to tackle homophobic bullying. Players have always been a part of the SRRC campaign and we are pleased with the support the film has received.
- We sit on the FA Tackling Homophobia Working Group with agencies including the English Gay and Lesbian Supporters Federation (EGLSF), Stonewall and the Gay Football Supporters Network(GFSN).
- We are working with Stonewall – as Diversity Champions to ensure our internal policies and procedures are as inclusive as possible.
- We sit on the TUC Homophobia Group with a wide range of trade unions in order to learn and understand best practise with regard to working on Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender issues (LGBT).
- We have produced a poster campaign to encourage players and supporters alike to accept difference and understand that when you are part of a team you are never on your own. To become a professional footballer means you understand team spirit more than most. We hope any gay player will feel supported by his team mates, and know that his union is there to support all players, gay and straight.
Support Network For Footballers Coming Out
The PFA has created a policy of help and advice for members facing the deeply personal decision of coming out about their sexuality. This includes a network of other gay sports people who can share their experiences and provide support.
With the individuals themselves leading the process, the PFA is also offering to work for players by liaising with clubs, the press, agents, social media platforms and family. The aim is to provide as supportive an environment as possible, based on lessons learned from other sports.
The PFA Player Support Policy
- Network of support within sport. The PFA has been working with other sportspeople (including footballers) who can share their own experiences of coming out, ensuring we have a support network for any footballer who wants to come out.
- External network of support. The PFA work closely with several LGBT charities and campaign groups. We can put members in touch with contacts who can provide independent and confidential advice.
- Assessing levels of support. Irrespective of being a footballer, coming out can be a significant life event for anyone. Support from family and friends can be important. We can help a member identify support within their personal life, this may also include support from within the football dressing room.
- Provide the member with media training and work with the member and their club to execute a media strategy in accordance with the player’s wishes.
- Encourage a clear public message of support from the club, team-mates and fans.
- Work with the club, league and the FA to closely monitor crowd activity in fixtures involving an openly gay player.
Reporting On-Field Incidents
If a player hears any discriminatory abuse on the pitch, either from the crowd or an opposition player, they should report this immediately to the referee who has agreed protocol/procedure in place to address this.
Referees are receiving a similar overview on how to deal with any on-field incidents. The action to be taken by a referee should include talking to the player accused (for play-on-player abuse) or referring the matter to the Chief Safety Officer if it is crowd related.
A referee does have the authority to take the teams off the field of play if they think the incident is serious enough. All referees should make a report of the complaint they have received so that it can be included in their match report and noted by the FA. Players should also inform their manager that they have made a complaint to the referee.
If you want any further information or advice from the PFA you can speak to us privately and in confidence...
The FA has recently introduced a new tariff of sanctions to deal with incidents of discrimination. It now covers nine of the protected characteristics, such as racism, religion, homophobia and disability. Sanctions include:
- A minimum five-match ban for the ‘least serious’ discriminatory offences.
- A second offence will include a minimum 10-match ban.
- Players found guilty may have to attend an educational programme.
- Clubs that have two or more players found guilty of discrimination offences in a 12-month period will face charges and could have points deducted.
To prevent players falling foul of regulations the PFA provide a Senior Players Diversity Programme for all League players.