A recent survey of fans who are LGBT+ has found that over 63 per cent experienced incidents of anti-LGBT language last season. ‘The LGBT+ End of Season Survey’ explored the experiences of LGBT+ football fans throughout the 2017/18 season. Respondents recalled incidents of physical and verbal abuse, homophobic and transphobic chanting and other derogatory comments from other fans. The report concludes that clubs, leagues and football authorities to initiate or increase support for LGBT+ people and the establishment of LGBT+ fan groups, providing fans with the confidence to attend games.
The purpose of this event is to raise money for charity, raise awareness of LGBT+ inclusion in sport for fans and for people directly involved in sport who identify as LGBT+. It is also about stamping out LGBT+ phobia in sport and showing it the red card for good.
Research from the LGBT charity Stonewall for their Rainbow Laces campaign in 2018 highlighted a lack of confidence more generally in the UK to challenge anti-LGBT language at live sporting events, with only 25 per cent of those surveyed feeling able to intervene.
Steve Slack CEO of SAYiT said: ‘The Rainbow Laces campaign was created by Stonewall as a way for sports people to show their support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT+) by wearing rainbow coloured laces. Not only have we seen a rise in homophobic incidents around football matches there are still no openly gay male footballers in the top tiers of the sport in the UK. The last player to come out was Justin Fashanu, who came out in 1990 but died of suicide in 1998 after years of homophobic abuse.’
James Laley from Sheffield Hallam University said: ‘Homophobia is often referred to as 'tackling football's last taboo' I am a keen football supporter and sadly I witness homophobic chants on a frequent basis which can make LGBT+ people feel threatened and not welcome at football matches. This is why I feel so strongly about the Rainbow Laces campaign and why I wanted to hold such an event in Sheffield. We are delighted to be working in collaboration with SAYiT in organising this event.'
Over 300 people attended a football tournament on Saturday 16th February 2019 at Goals sports complex in Norfolk Park. Thirty two teams representing organisations from across the city all donned Rainbow Laces in a 5-aside tournament lasting all afternoon. The event was organised to call an end to LGBT+ phobia in football. The awareness raising football matches were organised by Sheffield Hallam University and the young peoples’ charity SAYiT which supports young LGBT+ people in the City. Money was also raised to support the work of the charity including a fund set up after the death of a young man called Noah Lomax whose family established a fund in his name. The tournament came in the same week that Sheffield Cricketer and England captain, Joe Root, was widely applauded for challenging an alleged homophobic incident in the third Test in St. Lucia.
James Laley, one of the organisers from Sheffield Hallam University, and himself someone who has experienced homophobia in sport, said: ‘We were overwhelmed by the support we received from across the city. We had originally hoped to attract 12 teams but in the end had almost three times as many – making the event, we believe, one of the biggest Rainbow Laces 5-aside tournaments in the country. As someone who is a keen football fan and who has witnessed homophobia at first hand, it was heartening to see so many LGBT+ people and their allies supporting the initiative. It was a great day and an inclusive atmosphere made better by the fact that the sun shone on a bright, spring like, February day. We are already thinking about plans for 2020 and arranging an even bigger event – so watch this space!’
Steve Slack, CEO of SAYiT, said: ‘It was great to work in collaboration with Sheffield Hallam University in raising awareness of this important issue and it demonstrates, yet again, what an amazingly inclusive city Sheffield is. We know that it is only a small and dwindling minority of football fans who continue to express homophobic attitudes – but they make life harder for those LGBT+ people who are on the receiving end. We had hoped to get some support from the main football clubs in the city and hopefully this will happen next time. We would like to thank everyone involved in the event and in particular Sheffield Hallam University for their amazing hard work and their consistent support for the work of our charity. I feel so proud that Sheffield is a city where people can come together, whatever their sexuality or identity and show their commitment to equality, diversity and inclusivity.’