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July 2, 2014
Part 2 by Nina Szogs
FIFA, by refraining from punishing Mexican fans for using homophobic chants during the World Cup match against Cameroon – despite claiming to have a zero-tolerance policy, missed an important moment to take action against discrimination in football.
Discussing the lack of awareness
In 2006, Pilz et al., for the German Bundesliga, argued that whereas racism has to some extent become part of a critical discourse in football stadia, homophobic and also sexist chants are often perceived as a legitimate part of football fan culture. Today, during the World Cup, we can observe that homophobia, similar to racism and sexism, is still an immense problem on and off the pitch. Not only have Mexican fans been accused of homophobic chants, but also Russian and Croatian fans were seen displaying racist and homophobic banners. Missing the chance to publicly condemn these discriminating practices during an international tournament like the World Cup, and make people worldwide aware of them, is one of FIFA’s great failures.
A couple of months have passed since Thomas Hitzlsperger’s “coming out”, and not much seems to have changed. The necessity to organise a meticulously planned media strategy before talking publicly about his sexual identity and the vast media attention that followed the announcement, highlighted that being homosexual in Germany and Europe is still a difficult issue – especially in the context of men’s football. It is no surprise that other male homosexual football players have chosen not to publically disclose their sexual identity. There is still a long way to go to fight the widespread homophobia in our society, as evidenced by the need to either “come out” or live in hiding. Those that are not forced to choose between these two options can consider themselves privileged, as Alexandra Schwell discussed in the first part of this post.
In an insightful interview by Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle a young professional football player anonymously talks about his life as a homosexual football player before officially “coming out”. He discusses how he had and still has to listen to his teammates’ homophobic language and to homophobic chants in the German Bundesliga stadia. Among his teammates it is very common to use homophobic expressions for a bad performance. He makes it clear that it is impossible to get used to the harassment, despite experiencing it every day. And he shouldn’t! Nobody should be required to accept any kind of abuse. Instead, it is the lack of awareness about discriminating practices in our everyday lives that we need to tackle.
Many people say that homophobic chants are just expressions that are used “in a playful way” and “do not mean any harm”, but not that long ago these kinds of foul arguments were used as justifications to use racist expressions. Language is a powerful tool; therefore football officials should listen more carefully in order to better understand what it is like to be verbally abused on the pitch and in the stands. When an Austrian Football Federation press officer denies that there are any problems with homophobia in Austrian stadia it is a kick in the teeth for those who are discriminated against.
It may still be a while until people on and off the pitch will become aware of the homophobia that happens every day in all social, political, and legislative parts of society in Germany, Austria, and other countries, but as Conchita Wurst would say: “We are unity – we are unstoppable!”