The world has another homosexual professional footballer.
Robbie Rogers, the former U.S.A. international and Leeds player has revealed via a well-written statement on his website, that he is gay and that he is now to step away from the game to discover his identity outside of soccer. I wish him all the luck in the world.
The most played team sport around the world has now jumped to the giddy total of three players who have felt secure enough to admit that they are gay. Let us not forget as well that one of those three was made to feel such an outcast that he went on to take his own life.
The reaction when the news regarding Rogers broke would make an irregular observer of soccer think the sport had only just discovered that homosexuality existed. The shock and surprise shown by many involved in the game shows just far how behind the rest of society football is on this issue.
I can not be the only one who thinks it strange that only three brave souls have risked being openly gay within soccer. The law of averages dictates that there are more homosexual footballers out there who fear the consequences of coming out. In fact why should it take such bravery to come out at all? Surely we can create an environment where it is natural for all to be able to share their sexuality free of the fear of discrimination. This got me thinking, is enough being done to promote tolerance on all fronts in soccer?
Over the past 18 months or so, racism has been the major talking point in this area. The Luis Suarez and John Terry cases have meant that the issue of racism in football is one we are all well aware of. But instead of coming out of those scandals feeling that the game had got a grip of the situation, many still feel that not enough is being done by those in charge.
Yes there are a multitude of campaigns out there that promote anti-racism, anti-homophobia and anti-discrimination in general but are they working? Are they making any noticeable difference to attitudes of those in the game? The fact that the whole world appears to have gone slightly crazy at the news of one footballer coming out would suggest not.
If soccer was a world where tolerance was King, then Robbie Rogers would be a non-story.
The simple truth is that sexuality should not be an issue. Soccer is a sport. At no point does your sexuality affect your ability to be good at soccer. The only reason that the story was ticker tape breaking news material was because of the intolerant atmosphere that has pervaded within football for far too long. The same principle can be applied to the focus that always appears to be placed on female officials or black managers.
What is needed, and I do appreciate the irony here, is a period of zero tolerance. Zero tolerance on intolerance of any kind. If a fan is heard to shout anything racist or sexist at a game, he is banned for a long time. If a player uses gay as a derogatory term, then he receives a ban and a hefty fine. Soccer can change the culture it has but it will not be easy. Sadly the cynic within me wonders whether those in charge will ever risk a negative light being shone on their product.
The game is such big business and reliant on sponsors from around the world that the necessary introspection will not happen. It would be far too big a risk for those in charge to in any way highlight the faults within the game. For proof of this look at the heads in the sand approach of the FA, the PFA and the Premier League in both of the recent high profile racism cases.
Sadly the image that I, and I suspect many others have, is of a game that is all too tolerant of things that it should not be.
Watching the FA Cup tie between Manchester City and Leeds last week, there was a moment that stood out. As Pantilimon prepared to take a goal kick for City, the noise level amongst the Leeds fans rose and as he made contact a chorus of “you shit bastard” rang out. Clive Tyldesley described it as a “warm Yorkshire greeting.” Where else is casual swearing greeted with such irreverence on a Sunday afternoon?
It must be pointed out in the interests of fairness that soccer has come a long way in the recent decades but there is still a long way to go. Only when a player coming out, a referee happening to be female or a manager being black are not newsworthy stories will we be able to say that soccer is a tolerant place.