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Football still has a troubling relationship with LGBTQ+ inclusion, with Daniels being the only openly gay male player in England. Australian Josh Cavallo made history last October, becoming the only top-flight professional footballer to come out as gay worldwide.
The dearth of LGBTQ+ players, and therefore lack of representation for fans, has long been a concern for campaigners and fans.
Lou Englefield, director of Pride Sports, welcomed the news and the impact it would have on LGBTQ+ representation in the sport.
“It’s great that LGBTQ+ people will be able to see themselves represented in the game at a really high performance level,” she said. “That tells us a great story, that in the men’s professional game, you can be a gay man and you can play football and be successful.”
Rishi Madlani, co-chair of LGBTQ+ football fan network Pride in Football, said that he was delighted to see news of Daniels coming out, but acknowledged that more still must be done by football authorities to combat homophobia and transphobia in the sport.
“Within hours of the news coming out [Pride in Football] received abuse about this, which I think sums up unfortunately the cesspit social media has become,” he said.
He added: “Our quest, as football fans’ organisations, is always to make ourselves redundant. But unfortunately we’ve got a lot more hearts and minds to win. I think the authorities still have to do a lot more.”
Mather also said that while Daniels’ coming out shows how far the football world has progressed over the years, it’s also a sign that more needs to be done to tackle homophobia in the sport.
“Whenever a story like this happens, on social media there’s always comments that are unacceptable,” he said. When Proud Terriers tweeted to congratulate Daniels, the post received several derogatory comments, including one saying “hell is waiting”.
When Sky Sports published their interview with Daniels, they limited who comments under the post. “It annoys me that that has to happen,” Mather added.
“I just don’t feel like homophobia is taken as seriously enough as it should be.”
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According to research by Stonewall and ICM, 72 per cent of football fans have heard homophobic abuse while at a match.
Meanwhile, over a third of young people involved in sports still feel unable to disclose their sexuality or gender identity to their club, according to the charity METRO. Shockingly, according to research by GAY TIMES and Paddy Power, almost a third of fans admit that they would feel ‘uncomfortable’ seeing two men kiss at a football match.
A spokesperson for the FA said that it “stands firmly against all forms of discrimination” and is working to create a “game free from discrimination”.
The FA said it has launched a onew equality, diversity and inclusion strategy aimed at tackling discrimination, and will continue working with LGBTQ+ partners including Stonewall and Pride in London.
“We are striving to ensure our game is a safe environment for all, which truly embraces diversity and inclusion and challenges hateful conduct both on and off the pitch,” the spokesperson said.
In a statement yesterday, campaign group Football v Homophobia congratulated Daniels, saying that he was “showing the world that you can be yourself” in the game.
Englefield, who also works on the Homophobia v Football campaign, acknowledged that while much progress has been made in terms of LGBTQ+ representation and awareness within football, further action is still needed.
“One of the key things we need to be doing is the education of referees, because I think referees, particularly at a grassroots level, don’t always pick up on homophobia and transphobia,” she said.
“The other thing that we that we desperately need to tackle is homophobic abuse on social media,” she added. “The PFA [Professional Footballers’ Association] research last year into online abuse showed that homophobia was the most common form of abuse directed at professional footballers online.”
Research from the PFA indicates that a third of all abusive posts directed at players online during the 2020/21 football season included homophobic abuse.