The ugly game
Sepp Blatter's recent comments about the 2022 Qatar World Cup force us to confront homophobia in football
You don't have to be a total cynic to suspect that the recent British attacks on Fifa president Sepp Blatter, over his septuagenarian Simple Simon solution to on-pitch racist taunts, would be less raucous if only Fifa had awarded the 2018 World Cup to London. To me, this is further proof that modern, moneyed football has no moral fibre, only self-interest.
I confess. I'm a modern-day heretic. I hate football. From my early childhood, when the BBC 'Grandstand' teleprinter interminably stretched the fabric of time until the start of 'Dr Who' to the subsequent school years of cruel torment primarily based on my complete and utter disinterest in the sport, I have always loathed it.
Consequently, as an adult I've been constantly depressed by the omnipresence of soccer. A kind of Pavlovian reflex, I guess. I'm repulsed by those MPs publicising support for a football team in a misguided attempt to prove their membership of the human race, and my emotions are dulled by the media's legitimised xenophobia whenever international matches occur.
Perhaps all this wouldn't bother me quite so much if English football didn't also appear to be so institutionally homophobic. Ever heard any of those jolly terrace chants? A profession where one of its holy figures, St Brian of Clough, bullied Justin Fashanu in print. '“Where do you go if you want a load of bread?” I asked him. “A baker's, I suppose.” “Where do you go if you want a leg of lamb?” “A butcher's.” “So why do you keep going to that bloody poofs' club?”'
Those cheery words were published in Clough's 1995 autobiography, to no public outcry, just three years before Fashanu's tragic suicide. And we should never forget that Fashanu has been, to date, the only British professional footballer to publicly declare their homosexuality.
Which leads me to Qatar. Yes lovable, dear old inclusive Qatar. Only the queer-denying institution of football could, without irony or shame, hold its premier competition in a country where homosexuality is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. It seems an absolute perfect fit to me. After all, homosexuality appears punishable by suicide in British football. Five years incarceration in Qatar seems a mere trifle in comparison.
And what is Blatter's underreported solution for the remote chance that any homosexual football fans would care to attend the World Cup in 2022? 'They should refrain from any sexual activities.' So relax, chaps! You can take your Gaga albums and your Abercrombie and Fitch tops. Just don't hold hands and kiss each other like the local men do. You might end up in jail.
One of the most remarkable events experienced in my lifetime has been the near-peaceful South African revolution of the 1990s. I've always understood that the sport and cultural boycotts instigated by the UN in the 1960s hit South Africa where it hurt most, leading to an embargo on television broadcasting sporting events from the country and heightening world-wide awareness and increasing peaceful pressure for South African change.
But with the Qatar and homosexuality issue the UN and broadcasters seem to be following the Blatter 'don't ask, don't tell' stance. Nice. That makes me feel real good. Confirming my suspicions that when it comes to the big guys, gay rights are nowhere near as important as religious or racial ones.
Most people think we've already had enough equality, thank you! We've been ticked off the 'To Do' list. We were made legal in 1967, for goodness' sake! Gays want marriage - but we're only given 'civil partnerships'. Can you imagine any other minority group tolerating this? With daily frequency, I wince at the hateful words 'poof' and 'queen' used without apology or excuse in the media. The highest profile television gays are still '70s neutered camp caricatures, employed to titillate the straight public majority.
But to complain would be churlish, wouldn't it? And so back to football. Not even in my wildest fantasy moments can I imagine even one single English footballer understanding and making history by making a stand for homosexual rights by refusing to play in Qatar.
No, sadly I fear there won't be anyone in the England squad with the balls and bravery of the English gay singer Dusty Springfield, deported from South Africa in 1964 for making her principled anti-apartheid stand against segregated audiences.
And as far as the UK press and broadcasters are concerned the only 'Qatar controversy' is the bribery allegation. Bribery? Corruption? In football? Nah, not here guv! It is to the British media's eternal shame that they continue to support the unchallenged normalcy in football's homophobia. The beautiful game? The ugly game, more like…