Kick It Out's Paul Mortimer says footballers can help fight homophobia
Homophobic abuse directed at players for goal celebrations an example of discrimination
By Jon Holmes - @jonboy79
Last Updated: 21/08/17 4:35pm
The impact players have in raising awareness of key issues would significantly help in the fight against homophobia in football, says Kick It Out's Paul Mortimer.
The sport's equality and inclusion organisation has released a new short film featuring lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) fans, and a booklet and pocket guide for matchday stewards and safety officers, in order to combat homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) discrimination in football stadia.
Mortimer, Kick It Out's Professional Players Engagement Manager, is encouraged by the initial response to the new resources and is now urging football's authorities to make use of key figures in the game.
"To use a metaphor from a different sport, I'd like to see the authorities take this ball and run with it," Mortimer told Sky Sports News HQ.
"I want the FA to step up and create a film and use prominent players - that would be absolutely fantastic. Then the message would get out there, and highlight the fact this is happening.
"The authorities need to take this ball and run it over the try line."
Some will try to argue, 'hold on, those players are acting in that way'. The response needed is, 'No, they're not, you have thought that, you have added what you've added to it'.
Kick It Out's Paul Mortimer on HBT abuse directed at players
Through the work undertaken by Mortimer and Kick It Out, players are also told how they can report HBT abuse if directed at them or overheard.
"I know players often tell you they don't hear what's said from the sidelines, but on certain occasions, they do," added the former Charlton midfielder.
"Some have said to me in meetings, 'I heard that, and I didn't like it... but I wasn't sure what to do about it.' Often it's about making players aware that they can still go to the referee and complain about it, because it is illegal behaviour. With a lot of this language that's used, people haven't been 100% aware that it's discriminatory."
Recently, high-profile Premier League goal celebrations have attracted HBT abuse on social media, with tweets and comments directed at the players involved. Mortimer says it is right to call out such abuse and not allow it to develop further.
"If it has enough of a groundswell, it will find its way into stadiums," he said. "Our role at Kick It Out is to make sure it's highlighted and that people understand it's unacceptable behaviour. Some will try to argue, 'hold on, those players are acting in that way'. The response needed is, 'No, they're not, you have thought that, you have added what you've added to it'.
"Those thoughts often lead to actions and it gets worse. We need to highlight that behaviour, making people who want to behave that way aware of their behaviour. There must be sanctions but more importantly, education."
Mortimer says part of that education process is explaining what constitutes HBT discrimination, in particular derogatory and offensive language, which is covered in the new Kick It Out booklet.
"Everyone knows what racism is, and understands that that kind of language is offensive and unacceptable," he explained.
"But a lot of the language aimed at the LGBT community... it was almost like a subconscious, acceptable norm. It was like 'well that's OK, it's not racism so it's not really discrimination'. We are educating people so they understand what discrimination is."
Mortimer cites the example of Kick It Out ambassador Sophie Cook, Bournemouth's club photographer and the first transgender woman to work in British football, as someone who is playing a crucial role in raising awareness of LGBT inclusion.
"People like Sophie Cook are hugely important," he added. "I've walked down the road with Sophie and seen the way people look at her and stare and mutter... I think if you videotaped it and showed those people, they'd be shocked at their behaviour.
"It's about turning that mirror on people and making them aware their behaviour is unacceptable. If we can do that on a regular basis, then they can't hide behind someone else being the issue. The issue will always remain their behaviour."
Mortimer recognises the difficult task that stewards and safety officers face on matchdays but says that by taking the steps outlined in the pocket guide and booklet, they can take a significant step in eradicating abuse.
"It's hugely important that those working in football clubs understand, because I've sat and watched stewards when there's been racist language and they've not done anything about it," said Mortimer.
"Hopefully this will add value to the stewards and give them more confidence, make them more aware of vocabulary and terminology, and make them aware of the impact it's actually having on an LGBT fan who has come to enjoy a matchday experience."
You can report homophobic, biphobic and transphobic discrimination to a steward or to Kick It Out via the following methods:
Kick It Out's free reporting app - available on App Store and Google Play
Freephone 0800 169 9414
Email - email@example.com