Every so often, Joey Barton takes a break from winding people up on Twitter to actually say something that makes some sense.
This is one of those times.
Barton is one of the high-profile stars lending their support to the campaign which aims to highlight the issue of homophobia in football. It’s a joint venture between gay rights charity Stonewall and the betting firm Paddy Power, and has seen rainbow laces sent to all professional teams in England and Scotland during the past week.
I think it’s a great idea. It is addressing an issue that should not even be an issue in this day and age. There are currently no openly gay players in top-flight football – the odds that this is actually the case are tiny. Yet fear of a negative reaction from teammates and fans – not to mention the all-important implications on their commercial interests – is clearly preventing gay players from coming out of the closet.
Everton (go ‘ed my Blue boys!) were the first Premier League club to confirm that they were lending their full support to the campaign. Phil Jagielka, their captain, said “For me and the rest of the lads at Everton a player’s sexuality is not important, but their ability on the pitch is. We don’t tolerate discrimination of any kind at Everton and the whole club works hard to get that message out to the fans.”
A great message and a great example to be setting.
Unfortunately Everton are in the minority. The Premier League and almost half of its clubs have expressed “disappointment” that they weren’t consulted sooner as the involvement of Paddy Power meant that their “commercial interests” would be compromised – yet another example of the fact that, in football, money is all that matters. Barton expressed disbelief that a TalkSport debate was musing over the “technical issues” faced by players changing their laces, confirming that he’d worn them twice and had not experienced any problems.
Well I’m sorry but this all sounds like a cop-out to me. Quite apart from being a PR nightmare, for these high-profile clubs to take this stance and blame “lack of time”, “commercial conflict” and “technical issues” as excuses is just no good. If this were an anti-racism campaign, I doubt hugely that it would have been met with so much resistance, whether Paddy Power were involved or not.
Granted, the hashtag #RBGF, which stands for “Right Behind Gay Footballers”, isn’t the best choice of tagline for such a campaign – I refuse to believe that it’s an innocent choice of language – but then again, it’s been included in over 230 million tweets since last Sunday, according to Stonewall’s Twitter, so surely raising awareness in this (admittedly linguistically crass) way is a good thing?
If all of these frankly pathetic reasons are truly why the majority of clubs are reluctant to participate, then Stonewall and Paddy Power need to change tack. They need to liaise properly with the League and with Kick It Out (the anti-discrimination campaigners) to ensure that every nonsensical administrative box is ticked, that all “commercial interests” are content, that all technical issues are addressed, that vulgar and provocative language is not used.
I’m afraid to say that I am not convinced that the outcome would be very different – there’s a long way to go with this particular issue.