Chelsea legend Graeme Le Saux has lent his support to this weekend’s inaugural Game for Equality.
The match will see our Building Bridges initiative join forces with Kick It Out, Football v Homophobia, the Premier League and the FA to underline the commitment to tackling discrimination in all forms.
The former England left-back, who now sits on the FA’s Inclusion Advisory Board, believes Saturday’s match against Everton will send out an important message from the club.
‘What’s impressive about the Game for Equality is that it’s looking at equality as a single issue and a way to share what the club, and the wider game, are doing,’ Le Saux said.
‘At the FA we’re in the process of looking at the different forms of discrimination where we think football must improve and I’m excited to be back at Stamford Bridge for this occasion – it will be a very useful and interesting experience.
‘We know very well the work that needs to be done to change some attitudes towards equality, and that’s a reflection on society, but football has a great opportunity to make a difference.
‘Football is incredibly inclusive,’ he continued. ‘There is a perception that there are massive issues it has to deal with, but clubs, and especially Chelsea through the Foundation here do a lot already. Football is for everyone. You can go to the poorest countries in the world and see girls, boys, different religions, and different ethnicities sharing the sport. Its simplicity, the fact you only need something that resembles a football means you can have a game anywhere.’
Le Saux has spoken at length of his struggles to integrate himself when he first arrived at Chelsea as a teenager in the late 1980s, eventually suffering homophobic abuse from opposition fans, despite not being gay. Former Everton, West Ham and Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger recently came out as gay, and received widespread support that Le Saux feels someone from his own generation may have lacked.
‘A lot of the time people don’t realise the offence they’re causing with their abuse,’ he explained. ‘There may be no intent to offend, but it is still unacceptable and people need to be aware of this. The vast majority would then stop.
‘One of the saddest things for me is that what I went through all those years ago is still relevant. We still haven’t really dealt with the issue of homophobia,’ Le Saux said. ‘It’s not just football’s problem, there are very few sportspeople, male or female, that come out during their career.
‘I don’t feel players must come out. As Hitzlsperger said, while he was dealing with his career, he didn’t have time to deal with the attention it would have got. It’s vital that people respect that.
‘The biggest fear I have within football is that there could be a young gay player who turned his back on the game because he felt he wouldn’t be accepted. It would be a failure. As I said, football is for everyone. If you have talented players then it’s a failure to allow them to walk away because they feel they couldn’t fit in. That’s where the emphasis is for me.
‘The fact Thomas received so much public support is good, and a dressing room is much more diverse and accepting of differences now. When I was growing up that wasn’t the case, you were separated from the group if you were different. It was seen as light-hearted banter but it could be very damaging and very lonely. You had to be tough to get through that.
‘Now I think most football clubs are much more inclusive and accepting. I don’t think a dressing room would have a problem with a gay footballer, but I do feel there would be a huge strain on that person in terms of public attention, not in a negative way, but in the interest around them, which could make it very difficult.’
Megan Worthing-Davies, director of Football v Homophobia, agrees with Le Saux’s sentiments.
‘As Graeme rightly says, work to tackle homophobia in football should get beyond the discussion of players coming out,’ she said.’ Campaigns like ours focus on what all of us can do to ensure a safe environment for everyone in football to be able to be themselves.
‘This applies as much to people in the game who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) as it does to people who are heterosexual.All of us need to stand up and make a difference, and allies like Graeme who take a lead on challenging homophobia in the game are extremely important.We hope that over the coming years, more people within football – straight and LGBT – will be willing to join with the campaign and to speak out.’
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