Football Accused in Homophobia Row

Article excerpt

Players refuse to appear in video designed to combat prejudice FA told to do more to fight prejudice

Professional footballers have refused to appear in a campaign video against homophobia because they fear being ridiculed for taking a stand against one of the sport's most stubborn taboos, The Independent has learnt. Both players and agents declined a request by the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) to take part in a video which was to use high- profile players as figureheads in the association's drive against anti-gay prejudice.

The advertising agency Ogilvy, which was hired to produce the film, had advised that such involvement by well-known faces would be important if the campaign was to deliver the required impact. But instead, the FA was obliged to produce a generic "viral" anti- homophobic video - which was itself pulled earlier this week.

The revelation comes as a setback for campaigners who have finally begun to make progress in tackling homo- phobia in sport. Last month, former Welsh rugby captain Gareth Thomas took the unprecedented step of coming out as the first openly gay British rugby professional, an announcement that received widespread acceptance and praise. Last year, Donal g Cusack became the first openly gay Irish hurler - another aggressively hetrosexual sport. But last night Gordon Taylor, the PFA chief executive, said that the request by the players' union for involvement was not a straightforward one for players. "Everybody assumes footballers are full of confidence, but it is not easy on issues like this," he said. "Remember there was a time when even black players did not feel they could talk about race."

Peter Clayton, who chairs the FA's Homophobia in Football advisory group and is the FA's only openly gay councillor, said he too appreciated players' anxieties. "I suspect agents and clubs shied away from it," he said. "A player coming forward to appear in it would feel he might ignite more vitriol."

A PFA source added: "Maybe in three, four or five years we will have more players involved. At the moment, no one wants to be the player putting their head above the parapet. It's about the right time and the right place. …