Former NUFC player and SRtRC coach, Olivier Bernard, gives an interview on homophobia in football as the campaign begins production on a new education resource.
It is no longer acceptable for footballers to be racist in any way, shape or form, whether it is to towards their team-mates or opposition players. Sadly the same is not true about homophobia.
Olivier Bernard has spent the last 18 months working for Show Racism The Red Card, taking part in workshops trying to help stamp out the last stubborn remnants of ingrained racism across the North East and beyond. It is a battle that has been won in football and, because of that, football can be used to educate others, but when it comes to other prejudices, football is not just part of the problem, it accentuates it.
“The campaign against racism in football in the UK has lead the way to challenging this form of discrimination” said Bernard, who met chief executive of Show Racism The Red Card, Ged Grebby, at a charity dinner for Wallsend Boys’ Club.
“But we have other problems to tackle, and homophobia is perhaps the hardest of the lot. Football dressing rooms are homophobic environments, definitely. If you went into any dressing room and said you were gay, people wouldn’t want to know you. They would step back and treat you as a leper. It is still a taboo.
“I never knew anyone who admitted they were gay, but I think there were one or two who were. I could point my finger at a couple, definitely, but they never said anything about it. They never admitted it. Footballers are anti-gay, generally, they don’t accept it and they don’t like it. It is still a very macho world, a man’s world and they don’t believe there is any place for gays in the game.
“One of the people who works for Show Racism, Leroy Rosenior, he played with the only player to say he was gay, Justin Fashanu. He hanged himself. He says when Fashanu got in the team bath the other players would get out straight away and leave him there alone. That’s how bad it was and I think it still is. It was when I was playing and that’s not long ago. I’m 80% sure players would react the same way – they wouldn’t accept it.”
Bernard has never played with anyone who admitted they are gay, but that does not mean he has not had team-mates who were gay. He would like to think he would not have behaved any differently towards them if they had confirmed it, but he knows others would not have been so open-minded.
He explained: “It wouldn’t shock me, but I would have questioned it at the time, I suppose. I wouldn’t have got out the hot tub, though, that’s for sure. I think it’s only a matter of time until someone comes out and that’s what we need to break the deadlock. A footballer to stand up and say, ‘yes I am gay’. But it would be very hard for someone to do that, to be the first. How would your team-mates, the media, supporters react?
“I’m sure there are gay footballers, but because it’s football, they don’t come out because they are scared about the reaction. If one came out, I’m certain more would quickly follow. It has happened in and it has happened in cricket. It’s not acceptable to be racist in football, but it is still seen as acceptable to be homophobic. It will change, people are more accepting now and more aware of things, it will happen one day. It’s the last barrier to break down.
“I played with someone at Rangers who was gay, I’m pretty certain. He never said anything, but he was always with one man, his partner I think. He was a big guy so nobody said anything to him, but he wasn’t brave enough to admit it either.”
Source: The Journal
Show Racism The Red Card are set to release a film in conjunction with the Northern Rock Foundation as an educational resource to combat homophobia in society using the high-profile status of sporting personalities.
[PHOTO: Olivier Bernard with NUFC players Mike Williamson and Cheick Tiote]