Stonewall, joining forces with the Gay Football Supporters Network (GFSN) and Paddy Power, has sent rainbow laces to every professional club and footballer in Britain to show support for gay players and fans.
The campaign has official backing from the Premier League and high-profile support from Thomas Hitzlsperger, FA Cup winners Arsenal and champions Man City and aims to tackle one of the most persistent challenges in sport: homophobia in football.
Building on the success of last year’s inaugural campaign in which hundreds of pros laced up including Leighton Baines, Olivier Giroud and Joey Barton, alongside widespread support from Ed Miliband, the Department of Culture, Media & Sport, Stephen Fry and Gary Lineker, players and fans are being urged to again show their support over the weekend of 13/14 September.
Arsenal legends Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Olivier Giroud, Santi Cazorla and club captain Mikel Arteta will kick-off the campaign with a high-profile TV ad – ‘The Changing Room’ – designed to raise awareness of the issues around homophobia in football and lead the charge in changing the beautiful game.
Among the 5,000 professional footballers in the UK, not one of them is openly gay – a scenario with odds of over a quadragintillion to one. Stonewall’s own research shows that seven in ten football fans have heard or witnessed homophobia on the terraces and more than 40 per cent believe football to be an anti-gay sport.
Rainbow coloured boot laces have been dispatched to every single professional player in the UK, including youth and women’s teams, alongside deliveries to all 650 MPs and leading political figures. Fans and grass-root players will be asked to tweet their support using the official hashtag: #RainbowLaces
Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of Stonewall, said: ‘We know that homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are still rife in football. That needs to change. Last year’s Rainbow Laces campaign was a great start but there’s still a long way to go both on and off the pitch. The clubs and players supporting the campaign and lacing up this weekend are taking a powerful stand against homophobia in our national game. Our work in sport will continue all year round, but for this week we need as many people as possible to show their support and get involved.’
Nick Noble, Premier League Head of Communications said: ‘The Premier League welcomes initiatives like Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign, that share our objectives of equality throughout the sport. Unfortunately discrimination still exists in society and we recognise football’s leadership role in educating participants at all levels that any form of discriminatory behaviour is not acceptable.’
Thomas Hitzlsperger, the only openly gay player to have played in the Premier League, said: ‘I’m proud to be working with Stonewall on the Rainbow Lace campaign. I want to show that being gay and a professional footballer is something that’s normal. The perceived contradiction between playing football, the man’s game, and being homosexual is nonsense.’
Paddy Power said: ‘We love football but it needs a good kick up the ass. In many other areas of life, people can be open about their sexuality and it’s time for football to take a stand and show players it doesn’t matter what team they play for. Fans can show their support by simply tweeting using #RainbowLaces, whilst all players have to do is lace up over the weekend of 13 + 14 September.’
Ed Connell, Gay Football Supporters’ Network Chair said: ‘Last year’s Rainbow Laces campaign successfully highlighted the problem of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in football in a bold and impactful way, grabbing the attention of the footballing world. However real progress is never achieved with one off campaigns. That’s why the Gay Football Supporters’ Network (GFSN) has welcomed the opportunity to work on this year’s campaign which we believe can bring about real change in the game.’
In addition to club, player and fan support, some of the UK’s best known brands are supporting Rainbow Laces. In an industry first, Metro have pledged their support by filling their entire Monday edition with adverts from brands who back the campaign.
Premier Inn are renaming as Premier Out in all their communications for the day, HTC/Carphone Warehouse, Playstation, Sega, Relish Broadband, KLM, Heineken, Pepsico, Lastminute.com, Dr Martens, BT Broadband / BT Sport, Starbucks, Fiat and Jersey Tourism are just some of the brands involved.