Rainbow Laces: Graeme Souness and Alex Scott say culture of men's football makes coming out difficult

Homophobia will still be prevalent in some dressing rooms in men's football, says Graeme Souness on Sky Sports' Super Sunday, and calls for more education; fellow studio guest Alex Scott says open dialogue is vital, as football shows support for Rainbow Laces

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Graeme Souness and Alex Scott discussed the challenges a gay or bi footballer in the men's professional game might face, in a discussion with Super Sunday host David Jones

Graeme Souness says men's football must continue to work towards creating a more inclusive culture so that players who are gay or bi know they would be supported if they wanted to come out.

Souness, speaking in a Super Sunday discussion with fellow studio guest Alex Scott to mark the annual activation of the Rainbow Laces campaign, believes a number of difficulties still persist in the game on LGBT+ inclusion, such as homophobic language and behaviour in dressing rooms, and fears that they or their clubs may potentially lose lucrative sponsorship deals.

A year ago, the former Liverpool and Scotland star spoke on Super Sunday about his experience of attending the annual Brighton Pride parade in August 2019, describing how being part of the festivities "changed my attitude" about such events held by the LGBT+ community.

Reacting to a film showing Hector Bellerin on a video call with two fans from Arsenal's LGBT+ and allies group Gay Gooners, in which the supporters described the challenges they have faced relating to matchdays, Souness said: "How sad would it be if you're really passionate about something but you can't go to it because you're scared of abuse and that you won't be accepted?

"I teach my kids - 'every morning you wake up, try and learn something'. I'm a man in his 60s, I want to learn.

Graeme Souness, Super Sunday chat, Rainbow Laces
Image: Souness spoke of his positive experience at Brighton Pride last year, in which he led a group of amateur footballers from the LGBT+ community in the parade

"I went down to Brighton and it was fascinating. The cross-section of people there, the atmosphere... I came away feeling richer for the experience.

"I had a really interesting day. I learned a lot, including about myself. The dressing rooms were homophobic when I was playing, and I'm sure it's still part and parcel today in some dressing rooms.

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"It's going to be really difficult for that brave person to come out one day."

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Joe White and Carl Fearn from the Gay Gooners spoke to Arsenal's Hector Bellerin and Sky Sports' Pat Davison about the inclusive community that the LGBT+ and allies fans group has created

Scott, who won 140 England caps and spent the majority of her career at Arsenal, says she has always found the women's game to be welcoming of LGBT+ people.

In his conversation with the Gay Gooners members, Bellerin mentions the high level of scrutiny that Premier League footballers are under, and also the attention they receive on social media, and Scott says that contrast between the men's and women's games is noticeable and distinct.

Alex Scott, Super Sunday studio chat, Rainbow Laces
Image: Scott believes conversations such as that had by Bellerin with the Arsenal fans will help with education

"The amount of abuse that players already go through - to add that (coming out), it's another layer," said Scott.

"In women's football, the fanbase is different. The fans that show up there are not necessarily there to judge but to love the sport as a spectacle.

"That in turn rubs off on the players. They feel they're in a safe environment, and can be who they are and be open about their sexuality."

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Scott's former England team-mate Lianne Sanderson was a guest on Soccer AM on Saturday and discussed the importance of Rainbow Laces alongside comedian Tom Allen

Recognising the impact of Rainbow Laces and the dialogue that the campaign generates, Scott is encouraged that awareness is growing on LGBT+ inclusion, to the benefit of everyone involved in the game.

"People shouldn't go to a football match and think that they're in an unsafe space or they have to argue with people because of who they are, being their true authentic self," she added.

"People openly talking about it and being supportive of everyone - these conversations need to be had."

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 06: Both sets of players line up in front of the handshake board that is seen with Stonewall Rainbow Laces branding on, in support of their campaign prior to the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on December 06, 2020 in London, England.
Image: The Premier League is showing support for Rainbow Laces with special handshake boards, ball plinths, corner flags and captain's armbands

On the prospect of a gay or bi male player coming out publicly, Scott says the overwhelmingly altruistic effect of such a decision could ultimately outweigh any concerns over negativity for that individual.

"It takes that one brave person - yes, they'll bear the brunt of it, but they'll open the door for other people."

Sky Sports is a member of TeamPride which supports Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign. If you'd like to help inspire others in sport by sharing your own story of being LGBT+ or an ally, please contact us here.

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