Football's New Hate Shame as Top Clubs Snub Drive on Homophobia

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Ministers furious over alleged failure by Premier League big guns to tackle sport's last taboo

England's biggest and most lucrative football clubs came under fire from the Government and equality campaigners this weekend for dragging their feet over plans to stamp out homophobia in the professional game. Ministers are privately furious at the "mealy- mouthed excuses" of Premier League teams when asked if their grounds could be used as the backdrop for the launch of a high-profile campaign against homophobia in sport.

As the annual international Football v Homophobia campaign begins this weekend, campaigners also voiced their dismay that only 16 of the 160 clubs in seven English divisions responded positively to a call to arms to tackle sport's last taboo. The campaign wrote to every professional English club asking them to get involved. The letters suggested a number of ways in which clubs, players and coaching staff could raise the profile of the issue - from mentioning it on Twitter to promotions in match-day programmes or PA announcements. Only six Premier League clubs agreed actively to help.

"Football's in the gutter at the moment," said a senior government source. "And they've got real problems with homophobia in dressing rooms and on the terraces. It needs top clubs to speak out repeatedly and as publicly as possible."

David Cameron will host a No 10 summit on racism in football on Wednesday, after a string of cases of alleged abuse aimed at black players by rival teams and fans. However, tough questions will also be asked about why there are no openly gay players in the entire English league at the moment.

No UK professional player has come out except Justin Fashanu, who committed suicide in 1998. Even now, Anton Hysen, who plays for the Swedish team Utsiktens BK, remains the only out gay professional footballer in the world.

The publicist Max Clifford recently said that among footballers he had known over the past 15 to 20 years, there were "probably half a dozen I know are either gay or bisexual". Lou Englefield, of Pride Sports, said: "There is still a reticence to talk about this."

Facing claims that it has so far failed to get a grip on the issue, the FA will meet tomorrow and is expected to launch a new strategy to engage with the lesbian and gay community.

Earlier this month Lynne Featherstone, a Home Office minister, announced that all 20 Premier Leauge teams had signed the Government's Sports Charter to tackle homophobia and transphobia in sport, on and off the pitch. But attempts to organise a photo opportunity at a major club's ground foundered.

It is understood that six Premier League sides were contacted asking for help to promote the charter. Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur said they were not given enough time, while QPR said they agreed to help in future. …