In the run up to the 2018 World Cup, Hertfordshire Constabulary and the Hertfordshire Football Association teamed up to survey more than 400 of the county’s football fans on their attitudes to gay and lesbian players and experiences of homophobia in the game.
The results of the survey were revealed today at an event held at Watford Football Club. Representatives from clubs across the county including Watford FC, Stevenage FC, Hitchin Town FC, Hemel Hempstead Town FC, St Albans City FC, Kings Langley FC and Royston Town FC attended the event, along with police hate crime officers, LGBT liaison officers and representatives from LGBT rights charity Stonewall.
While the survey revealed 86% of respondents would feel very comfortable if their favourite club signed a new gay player and 81% said that homophobic chanting at a match is unacceptable, 45% revealed they had heard homophobic abuse at a football match within the last three years.
One in ten respondents felt having a gay player would make other team members feel uncomfortable and another 10% believed that gay professional footballers should keep their sexuality to themselves.
In addition to this 19% disagreed that gay football players should come out to help others do the same. The survey also revealed that whilst 58% of fans would feel comfortable if their favourite club signed a new player that was transgender, 14% would feel uncomfortable.
In terms of how football clubs and police should respond to homophobia in the game and the reporting of offences, 61% of fans agreed football clubs should do more to educate fans about homophobia, although 20% stated they would not feel comfortable to report the offence if they became a victim at a match.
Some 94% also felt that football clubs and police should take action to tackle homophobic abuse by either arresting offenders, removing and banning them from grounds, giving them strong words of words of advice and referring them to the police.
As a result of the survey findings, Hertfordshire Constabulary and the Hertfordshire FA have pledged to work together to take a strong stance against homophobia in the game and make it a thing of the past. The organisations will now work together to create Third Party Reporting Centres in each of the football clubs in the county.
These centres will enable victims of any form of hate crime, including homophobia, to report offences immediately without having to talk directly to police if they don’t feel comfortable.
Speaking at the event Chief Superintendent Matthew Nicholls said: “Whilst our survey has revealed some positive attitudes to having gay, lesbian and transgender players in the game - and to challenging homophobia in football - the results also demonstrate this prejudice still exists.
“Additionally not only are there still currently no openly gay male players in English football, even the Football Supporters Federation has recently warned LGBT+ supporters to not openly display their sexuality if they are attending the World Cup. Therefore clearly the police and the country’s footballing community need to do more to change this.
“We are keen to reach a stage where homophobia in football is a thing of the past and that fans and players from the LGBT+ community can attend and play matches without fear of being their true selves. To achieve this we will continue to work with the Hertfordshire FA to get the message across that homophobia in football is unacceptable and considered a hate crime which should either be reported to police, the Football Association, your local club or via the ‘Kick it Out’app.”
Karl Lingham, Joint Acting CEO of Hertfordshire FA is determined to stop homophobia from being a barrier in football: “We are excited to be working alongside Hertfordshire Constabulary again to tackle homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, so that everyone can feel able to play, coach, officiate, administer or be involved in any role in football. An individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity should never be a barrier to participating in our national sport.
“In partnership with Hertfordshire’s football community, we want to stamp out LGBT+ discrimination in football throughout the county and we strongly encourage those who experience it to report incidents to police, the Hertfordshire FA or through the online ‘Kick It Out’ app.”
Hertfordshire’s professional clubs also showed their commitment to tackling the issue, with Dan Branowsky of Stevenage FC commenting “Stevenage Football Club is 100% committed to total inclusivity and supports Herts Police and the Hertfordshire FA’s efforts to bring an end to Homophobia in football. It was a pleasure to be involved in Monday morning’s session as clubs around Hertfordshire rallied together for the cause.
“The Lamex Stadium is a place where we want all our supporters, no matter their sexual orientation, to feel safe and proud to be associated with. The fight to stamp out homophobia is an ongoing one and Stevenage Football Club will continue to play its part.”
Sam Gillings from Watford Football Club said: “We are delighted to not only be the host venue for this campaign but also to work with campaigners and organisations promoting inclusion within the Watford family and local community, with the aim of helping to continue the fight against homophobia within football.”
Reporting Hate Crime
Hate crime is any criminal offence perceived by the victim or any other person as being motivated by prejudice or hate, based on a person’s sexual orientation, transgender identity, race, religion, or disability. Hate crime victims may experience physical assault, people swearing or making abusive remarks, spitting, insulting gestures or people doing things that frighten, intimidate and cause distress.
If any of the behavior described above is directed towards players or fans and is perceived as being based on a person’s sexual orientation, transgender identity, race, religion, or disability it will be dealt with robustly by police. On conviction, the element of prejudice or hate will be taken into account and an enhanced sentence can be given by the court.
Victims and witnesses can report incidents to police without fear via the non-emergency number 101, online at www.herts.police.uk/Report or 999 if a crime is on-going. Victims can be reassured that they will be taken seriously and treated with sensitivity.
However if people do not feel comfortable speaking directly to police, hate crime can also be reported online through the True Vision website which all police forces in England, Northern Ireland and Wales are signed up to. The online report will then be forwarded to the relevant local police force.
Kick it Out
Kick it Out is football’s equality and inclusion organisation which is funded by the Football Association, the Professional Footballers’ Association, the Premier League and the Football League has created its own reporting app which can be downloaded onto any smart phone.
The app allows users to confidentially report incidents they may see, hear or witness at a match and allows users to attach video and audio evidence. The report is then forwarded to the FA to investigate further. Discriminatory behavior can also be reported to via an online form on the Kick it Out website.