A Good Cause Ruined

By David Mooney, Mon 23 September 2013 09:52

A Good Cause RuinedDavid Mooney on the #RBGF campaign

If there’s one thing I’ve become fairly adept at in my time watching football – and, let’s be honest, I’m a Manchester City fan, so I’m something of an expert in this – it’s cynicism. My 25 years of supporting the Blues has taught me not to take anything at face value.

Some of you might remember that, back in April, I wrote a blog for this site about being a gay football fan. Also, this weekend has seen a drive from gay rights group Stonewall and bookmakers Paddy Power to improve the push for equality for homosexuals in the sport. I should think this is a good move. Should.

If you have managed to miss the fuss over the last few days, the idea was simple – every player in the football league would receive a pair of rainbow coloured bootlaces, a symbol originally of freedom and peace, but one that has been adopted by gay rights activists in the late 70s. That meant that every player would have the choice as to whether to be seen to support the cause or not… Ish (but we’ll come on to that shortly).

And, had this been a push by Stonewall and only by Stonewall, I would have felt perfectly fine supporting it. It’s a brilliant idea and a subtle campaign to help improve attitudes towards homosexuality in the sport. And, yes, something does need to be done, because Brighton and Hove Albion fans still hear ‘does your boyfriend know you’re here?’ and I have heard at numerous games over the past few seasons ‘who’s the faggot in the pink?’

There is a thread on Blue Moon on this subject and some of the replies show that there is a need for action to be taken. There’s a joke about HIV (you know, because it’s an issue that only affects gays). There’s speculation of who is gay in the Premier League. There’s not really a lot in the way of support of a fight against homophobia.

In the thread, a majority of posters felt it was an unnecessary move. The opinion that it created a situation where gay players and fans were singled out as different was commonplace, but it’s not that simple: Clearly players and fans don’t feel comfortable being open about themselves in a football context – and, while the percentage of homosexuals in sport might be lower than in day-to-day life, anyone who thinks Anton Hysen and Robbie Rogers are the only gay footballers are kidding themselves.

Gays aren’t being singled out by this campaign any more than ethnic minorities are by the Kick Racism Out Of Football programme. To shout this project down because it singles a section of society out for special treatment is similar to quashing same-sex marriage because gays could still get hitched – providing it was to the opposite gender. It’s a not-in-my-back-yard thing.

Some have criticised the decision to make it opt-out by sending laces to every player in the league, suggesting it should be up to individuals to join the campaign if they want to. However, it’s easier to take a passive stance in that instance. It’s easier to have not received any laces. It’s easier to bury your head in the sand and go with the majority. An organised push is often what is needed to make people get behind a movement.

Earlier in the week, I posted in the thread in support of the scheme, but as the weekend has gone by, my stance has become less clear. And this is where my cynicism comes in – as a gay fan, this should appeal to me directly, right? But, while I want to support it, I’m finding myself looking at it with disdain.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great idea. But it’s an idea that been ruined by two aspects: The involvement of the commercial partners Paddy Power and the name.

Starting with Paddy Power, I find myself asking how much of this drive is to generate some good publicity? They are mentioned in most news reports of the scheme, they have been keeping a blog over the weekend about how well the campaign is doing and they have been tweeting throughout matches about who was wearing the laces. It generates site hits. It generates retweets. It generates attention for their company, some of which will get people to spend money with them in the future.

Cynical I may be, but it’s a great marketing tool.

And let’s not forget that most clubs will have betting partners – those who are with companies that aren’t Paddy Power are likely to want to opt out to protect their own business interests and understandably so.

Then there’s the name. Right Behind Gay Footballers. You don’t need to be a genius to see the innuendo in that and what does that innuendo achieve? It doesn’t add weight to the campaign. It certainly feels like a name designed to give those who are homophobic and do shout homophobic comments something to laugh at.

The name is a joke. And it undermines the whole cause.

I’m pleased to see there were a number of players who laced their boots with the colours of the rainbow and I am pleased to see the level of support the scheme has had from ex-pros on television. But, as a gay fan, I’m disappointed that it’s been handled in the way it has.

It could have been so much more than an innuendo-ridden publicity stunt.