a documentary by Stephen Lyle and Tim Boyd
2010 | 30 mins | UK
›› Inside Sport Special - The Last Taboo
the stark reality about coming out in the so-called Beautiful Game.
Inside Sport Special - The Last Taboo At times I take time out to review gay works other than films and this is yet another instance. And no wonder when BBC sports presenter Mark Chapman dared to ask the question that many would have preferred him not to. Namely why is it that in this day and age, seemingly every other sport can deal with openly gay players and yet the so-called Beautiful Game simply cannot?

And therein lies for some, part of the problem. For Premier League football is not a beautiful game. Rather itís big business with its players elevated to celebrity status, some able to command more money off the pitch, than on. Only and as this thought provoking documentary made absolutely clear, other sports seemingly have little problem with homosexuality within the ranks, as such major names as former NBA basketball star John Amaechi, All-Ireland ace hurler Donal Og Cusack and former Wales rugby union international and now rugby league player Gareth Thomas are testament to.

Inside Sport Special - The Last Taboo Football however remains THE exception. That said, coming out to yourself, to those around you, let alone in the full glare of the media is rightly a personal choice. But surely if your decision is to finally shed the mask of playing it straight, then and as Chapman so well said: "there is a need for the national game to be in a position to make it possible for a footballer to come out, if they so wish." None however are willing or able to do so, with publicist Max Clifford having gone as far as to advise two high-profile league players to remain in the sporting closet, seemingly in fear of the consequences that coming out could have on their commercial appeal. Only and as tennis legend Martina Navratilova acutely observed: "how many athletes really get endorsements ... very few." Then again, the tragic suicide in 1998 of Justin Fashanu, namely the only publicly gay professional footballer in the world to date, is still an all too painful memory for many in the game.

For homophobia sadly still lingers in all walks of life, not least in sport, with Navratilova poignantly adding that "homophobia doesnít just hurt the gay athletes, it hurts the straight athletes too, because thereís a lot of girls I know about in the States that donít get involved in sports, because they know that they would be called dykes." Indeed and as Ed Connell, Manager of gay-friendly London Titans FC commented: "the problem is that people here have played for (semi-pro) straight teams in the past and its been an issue; they either couldnít be honest about their sexuality or if they did, then they made things very difficult for them."

Surprisingly(?) devoid of the appearance of an official from the Football Association, this informative work in trying to get to the bottom line of how long it will be before a major name steps forward to finally break sportís last taboo raised a series of emotive issues, including the shocking reality check of homophobic abuse hurled to this day at openly gay sportsmen and women. That a thin line exists between banter and abuse, cuts to the crux of the matter, one that sees John Amaechi adamant that "footballs' had itís chance to prove it would do the right thing." That it failed in the case of Justin Fashanu, is not in doubt. Yet as Fashanu himself said in 1992: "itís something that needs to be spoken about ... we have to deal with it." And in the minds of many, Burnley FC centre-back Clarke Carlisle included and notably the only League footballer willing to be interviewed on camera, that day is coming. But from watching this sobering work, that day will only be possible if the team, the club, their supporters, the merchandising companies and the media itself stand by their man and say "itís okay to be gay." Until then, the worldís most popular game, is still outwardly 100% heterosexual, that of a profession in which it remains solely acceptable to engage in man-to-man contact on the field, but not off it.
 
a BBC 1 premiere: Monday.24.May.2010 / 23:20 to 23:50.
Presented by Mark Chapman, with contributions from:
John Amaechi / NBA Basketball Star, Clarke Carlisle / Centre-Back Burnley FC,
Ed Connell / Manager, gay-friendly London Titans FC, Donal Og Cusack / All-Ireland Ace Hurler,
Tim Luckett / MD, Hill & Knowlton, PR & Brand Management, Chris Maughan / Coach, gay-friendly London Titans FC,
Martina Navratilova / The Greatest Female Tennis Player of All Time, Brian Noble / Head Coach, Crusaders Rugby League,
Piara Powar / Director Kick It Out, Gareth Thomas / Rugby League Ace and with archive footage of Justin and John Fashanu / BBC News May 1998.
Copyright 2010 David Hall - www.gaycelluloid.com.
archive reference #281
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