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In February 2019 Sheffield Rainbow Laces held its first event collaborating with the leading young people’s LGBT+ charity in Sheffield, SAYiT. An inclusive football tournament for everyone. 32 teams of all genders and sexualities signed up far surpassing all expectations of the organisers. Due to the success of the event and the rising issues of LGBT+ phobia in football, Sheffield Rainbow Laces is holding its second event this November.

English football’s equality and inclusion organisation ‘Kick It Out’ reported a 12% rise in LGBT+ related incidents for the 2018/19 season this follows a 9% rise the year before.

Sheffield Rainbow Laces Organiser James Laley said:

‘LGBT+ people still have negative experiences in relation to supporting or taking part in sport, especially football. LGBT+ supporters will have homophobic slurs directed at them while watching and supporting their football team or must listen to homophobic chants creating an uncomfortable and intimidating environment. But it’s not just supporters, it’s also sports people. With the hostile and dangerous environment society has created it is there no wonder we don’t have an openly Gay footballer. We all must do more together, across all communities, Allies, football fan groups, clubs and the FA. Rainbow Laces is an important and powerful initiative, but it must be done in unison with serious action being taken from the very top’.    

A recent survey by Stonewall showed 58% of 1,000 British adults agreed that anti-LGBT language should be challenged, and 53% felt everyone has a responsibility to call out derogatory behaviour and abuse. But only 25% felt confident enough to do so. The study called those one out of every four fans “hesitant allies” This shows that Allies also want to see change and an end to discrimination.


Download a copy of the Rainbow Laces Cup 2019 programme here

‘This latest match,’ continues James, ’is slightly different to the tournament. The match is dubbed ‘Battle of the Counties’ and sees Derbyshire and South Yorkshire in competition. We are directly challenging the male game. The women’s game has taken leaps and bounds in equality and inclusion. At the Women’s World Cup there were at least 41 female players or coaches who are openly gay or bisexual. During the male tournament in 2018, there were none. A recent survey, ‘Out on the fields’, showed 85% of people believe an openly gay male footballer would not be safe in the stands.’

On Saturday, 16th November, Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park played host to a charity football match that is calling for an end to LGBT+ phobia in football and to back sport as something for everyone. The event started with all players, managers, guests and many of the spectators signing a pledge banner committing to LGBT+ inclusivity being their goal. Thirty players took to the field, their shirts with a clear message on the back ‘LGBT+ Inclusivity, It’s a team sport’. With their children as mascots they walked through the LGBT+ flag arch which the young people of SAYiT were waving with pride. The cup match comes at the start of the national Rainbow Laces campaign run by Stonewall.     

James Laley, Sheffield Rainbow Laces organiser said:

“We are all extremely proud of what was achieved and the support we got on the day. The feedback we have had has been overwhelmingly positive which encourages us for the future. Through this event, awareness and education was highlighted so that all players and spectators can ensure they help bring an end to LGBT+ phobia in society. The match itself was very competitive and tight with both teams really putting their all into the match. A 1-1 result seemed fair and of course the final result needed to be decided on penalties. Well done to Derbyshire for winning the cup. We can’t wait to build on the success of both events and return in 2020 with the Tournament & Cup.”

Steve Slack, CEO of SAYiT said:  

“We were hugely honoured to collaborate with Sheffield Rainbow Laces in organising this important football match, drawing attention to continued LGBT+ phobia in football and sport in general. We are grateful for all the hard work and commitment that James Laley from Sheffield Hallam University put into making this such an amazingly inspirational and successful event. I would also like to say a huge thank you to all the players who took part in the match and for drawing attention to this issue. Finally, a big thank you to everyone who turned up to support the event and to cheer on the footballers despite the rain and cold. It was a great afternoon.”


Download a copy of the Rainbow Laces managers interviews here.

James Fox, 3Squared Commercial Director & official shirt sponsor said:


A brilliant day to help raise awareness of equality in Sport, 3Squared are delighted to have supported this event. Big thanks to James and the team for making it a huge success 3Squared are proud to have sponsored the event, as an inclusive employer it is vital, we educate and inform others on the importance of equality and put a stop to hate crimes. Let’s ALL work together to stamp out homophobia in sport.”


Quotes from players and spectators

‘It was a fantastic day, I really enjoyed myself’

‘Well done to everyone who played and attended the Sheffield Rainbow Laces match in Sheffield today - awesome commitment to the #RainbowLaces message’

‘Well done again for Saturday, it was such a success. You should feel very proud!’

‘I feel so proud to have taken part today and to help towards promoting football for everyone’  

‘This event was executed perfectly; I can’t think of what more could have been done. It was just fantastic’

Richard Brand, Derbyshire Captain & LGBT+ Ally, Call to action:


What I would like everyone to do is when we leave today it’s now in the back of your mind that Homophobia isn’t acceptable. If you do see it, you be a voice and stamp it out and use today as a catalyst and not just the end product of what has been a great day, it’s about what happens after this that is important. Do that and it makes today worthwhile.”

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