England's Football Association is apparently developing a campaign targeting football's homophobic culture. This isn't the first time the FA has made gestures in this direction, so pardon my cynicism about the depth of this organization's commitment to the topic. That said, the current campaign is being generated by Kick It Out, the FA's anti-racist program, which seems fairly successful in its consciousness-raising efforts.
Interest in the prevalence of homophobia in the English football world (something that hardly makes Brits unique) has peaked due to an October incident. Tottenham fans, who obviously had nothing good to say about their own team at the time, sang vile homophobic and racist chants at the Portsmouth player and English international Sol Campbell (long the target of such abuse, partly animated by resentment about his move from Tottenham to Arsenal).
I obviously have a lot to say about this subject: homophobia is a defining element of sports culture. It is deeply ingrained, and is a form of hate to which many leading figures in the sport feel perfectly entitled (like Chelsea's Scolari, who has said he'd kick any gay player off his side). Homophobia animates hostility towards the women's game - so much so, it is indeed hard to tell the difference between it and simple sexism. (For women in many parts of the world - including England - just playing soccer is enough to make you a "dyke" and target of homophobic abuse.)
The homophobia of English football is a reflection of its homosociality and - dare I say it? - we will have homophobia in the game as long as we have sexism in the game. The two are absolutely linked.
The term "homosocial" comes from sexuality studies, and describes single-sex spaces in patriarchal culture (like the military, the US Senate, fraternities, and sports teams) - these are environments defined by the exclusion of women. Defined, too, by the exclusion of all things feminine, effeminate, womanly, gay, or queer.
Clubs have made some interesting gestures towards gay and lesbian fans (see this story). This is a huge step in the right direction. But I'm going to say that just as important to changing things is the active support of women's involvement in the game, the elimination of baldly sexist advertising, and general consciousness raising among the people who work behind the scenes and in front of the camera about how to show respect for all of the people involved in football culture.
I am not saying the only way to get rid of homophobia is to have co-ed football. But we may not really get rid of homophobia in the game until we get rid of hostility towards women. Flip-side, too, is that we won't see an honest embrace of the women's game until we see a celebration of the lesbians who play it.
I just find it really hard to imagine how sports culture is going to make homophobia unacceptable without changing attitudes about not just sexuality, but gender too. The two go hand-in-hand.