Louise Carr – The Guardian Nov 17, 2018
Football fans attending matches between now and early December should not be startled by the sight of rainbow-coloured corner flags and substitution boards. Rather than representing a vividly dramatic rebrand of the game, the bright imagery is part of a wider inclusivity campaign designed to extend a welcome to LGBT supporters and participants.
A host of other sports will also be promoting the leading equality charity Stonewall’s annual Rainbow Laces campaign. These include judo, cricket, netball, rugby union – which, during Premiership fixtures at the end of this month, will showcase rainbow referee’s shirts and touch judge flags – darts and athletics.
Whereas women’s football joins in the initiative this weekend, Premier League, Football League and Scottish League clubs will promote it after the international break. From Friday’s Cardiff v Wolves fixture, matches will feature, among other things, players sporting rainbow bootlaces and captain’s armbands.
“Our clubs do fantastic work to reinforce the message that football’s for everyone,” said the Premier League executive director Bill Bush. “We’re proud to use our reach to celebrate Stonewall’s campaign.”
Similar sentiments were echoed by Shaun Harvey, the Football League’s chief executive. “All 72 EFL clubs are coming together to raise awareness of an important issue,” he said. “The EFL continues to be committed to providing a match-day experience that’s safe and welcoming to all. We’re hoping the rainbow substitution boards and the conversion of all EFL corner flags will grab the attention of fans up and down the country.”
This year’s campaign is partly about recognising how to be an “LGBT ally” in football and the Football League has made a series of short films demonstrating this concept in action at clubs. It is about making athletes and spectators alike feel part of things by endeavouring to eliminate homophobic and transphobic abuse, on and off the pitch.
On Wednesday week the wider sporting community is expected to take part in a mass lace-up in a nationwide show of support for LGBT people.
“It’s great to see UK sport banding together to support LGBT people,” said Kirsty Clarke, Stonewall’s director of sport. “Whether you’re into cricket, darts, rugby, football or athletics, your sport is lacing up. But it can’t just be national bodies making this statement. We need every fan to do the same and commit to standing up as an ally to LGBT people.
“It’s simply about being a good teammate and taking responsibility for making LGBT people feel welcome. You can challenge chants or insults about LGBT people, or report abuse.”
Women’s football has signed up for Stonewall’s project but already serves as a reassuring example of inclusion and diversity. Whereas no leading current male footballer has come out as gay – Oliver Giroud, the Chelsea and France forward, spoke in an interview published this week of the “pain and difficulty” that prevents professional players from doing so – high-profile female players are often open about their sexuality and benefit from operating in a sphere where it is regarded as no big deal.