English football has a long way to go before it has its own Josh Cavallo, but support for LGBT + is growing

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I am often asked why there are no overtly gay players at the professional level of men’s football. It is eye-opening indeed that there isn’t even one in England, but neither is it the only yardstick by which LGBT + inclusion in football is measured.

In October, Josh Cavallo came out as the first high-profile male professional footballer in the world as gay. We would all like to see someone as open as the Adelaide United player come forward in this country, but we must not forget that there are a lot of people in our game – from fans, coaches, club and governing bodies staff and, of course, players in women’s game. Likewise, this is not a phenomenon that only affects football; People are reluctant to come out in a number of environments. Football as our greatest “entertainment” is in the spotlight, so the topic often feels more acute.

The reasons why no male professional came out in England are hard to justify. Is it career progress, fan approval, media attention, or concern about the acceptance of fellow players and colleagues that make professional male players reluctant? It could be some of them, it could not be any of them. It’s probably all and more. Each individual’s circumstances are unique so none of us can really know.

What we do know is that being your authentic self at work improves performance. The mental effort involved in hiding a large part of your identity is enormous, and the margins on top are very small. So it is possible that there are many young men in football who do not make it to the top division because they did not feel comfortable or welcome in football.

Anyway, the work of LGBT + fan groups, campaigns like Rainbow Laces, Football V Homophobia and the work we do at Kick it Out to nurture, train and develop talent to create an inclusive game is crucial in order to create the conditions in which a male professional player is possible.

English football has over 50 LGBT + fan groups, more than any other country. Jurgen Klopp and Jordan Henderson’s willingness to stand up and speak out against homophobic chants at a recent game in Liverpool showed that there are key figures in football who are committed to the cause.

Yes, there is also the question of the major tournaments and the nations that host them.

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Successive world championships are now being held in countries that state their oppression and abuse of LGBT + people. As an organization with a reputation for fighting inclusion, this is unacceptable to us. But together with several other inspiring organizations, Kick It Out has formed a Qatar 2022 Working Group that will endeavor to promote the inclusion and safety of fans at the tournament next year and to have a lasting impact on the rights of LGBT + people in Qatar , and about the decision-making process for future tournaments.

There is support for the LGBT + community in football and it is growing. The torrent of love surrounding Josh Cavallo’s coming out is an indication of this. There will always be critics and haters, but we treat this like anything else. We find out where this lack of understanding comes from and we train and campaign for the necessary legal, structural or cultural change so that football can be a space in which everyone can feel free of fear of discrimination or abuse.

Chris Paouros is Trustee of Kick It Out and Co-Chair of Proud Lilywhites


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