Football has a terrible reputation when it comes to bigotry – all stripes of bigotry, really. Much the same as rather a lot of professional sport does. It generally happens unchecked, either being ignored by the governing bodies and big names or being tacitly approved of and encouraged.
This certainly applies to homophobia – there is a reason why out footballers are not common
In an attempt to supposedly combat this, the Football Association created the Inclusion Advisory Board, chaired by Heather Rabbatts who has a long history of challenging racism and sexism in football. The 10 member board was filled and due to start.
Except one of the members, Michael Johnson, actually did a television appearance in 2012 in which he described being gay as “detestable” and was very not supportive of trying to combat homophobia in football.
This man was appointed to an Inclusion Advisory Board intended to fight bigotry – including homophobia. You would think this wouldn’t make him the best choice.
After a week of bad publicity he resigned from the post he was so woefully unsuitable for – but problems remain.
Firstly, how are GBLT people – and minorities in general – supposed to take this body seriously? It’s clear the selection process has been at very least amateurish – either it has been handled in a singularly incompetent fashion or the FA simply didn’t care enough to actually put even a half-assed effort in (it wasn’t like his homophobia was obscure – this was a televised incident on the BBC) or they did do decent background checks and just decided homophobia wasn’t a problem.
None of these are good options. None of these suggests that the Inclusion Advisory Board is capable – or willing – to do what it was created for
Secondly, when Michael Johnson’s homophobia was revealed, the FA didn’t instantly declare “oh shit, our bad” and remove him from the board. They defended him. Heather Rabbats personally went to bat for him (homophobia apparently not being something that concerns him) and is still doing so today – even talking about continuing to have the IAB consult him. Again, this shows that the FA, the Inclusion Advisory Board and Heather Rabbatts aren’t all that concerned about homophobia. There has been an echoing silence from the other board members.
Thirdly, the charities that the FA refers to on its site as helping combat homophobia (kick it out, pridesports, stonewall) were silent on this matter. Kick it out the only one who mentioned it at all, and they only providing the FA’s press release after Michael Johnson stepped down – and that’s all they provided, a copy and paste. This looks a lot like charities supposed to be acting for equality stepping back if it may actually put them in combat with the FA – again, I question their purpose. If a bigot on the Inclusion Advisory Board of the FA isn’t worth speaking about then why pretend you are fighting homophobia in professional sports at all?
Fourthly, Michael Johnson quit, he wasn’t pushed. His twitter feed suggests that he’s resigned because of “tabloid journalism” reporting the story – which really shows how inappropriate he was for the role. There’s no indication that the FA or the Inclusion Advisory Board has learned anything from this or that they, in any way, think that such homophobia is unacceptable. They were willing to keep a homophobe on their special new equalities board and saw no problem there.
In the aftermath, we’re left with no reason to believe the Inclusion Advisory Board will make any appreciable effort to battle homophobia in sport – or that it (or its members) is even capable of recognising homophobia. It doesn’t look like the FA is overly concerned and they are more interested in a token fig-leaf than actual change. In the end, if homophobia in football is reduced, it seems it will be despite the FA and their inclusion board, not because of them.