Gay Sports: “Kicking with the Other Foot: Do Gay Sports Send Out the Wrong Message?”

Gay FC

This piece first appeared in the Sunday Independent in February 2005


Kicking with the other foot: Do gay sports send out the wrong message?

If there’s one place it’s still not okay to kick with the other foot it’s the sports field. In virtually every other social situation homophobia is now generally seen as a bit embarrassing; on the football pitch it’s the accepted norm.

It’s an attitude that trickles down from the top. There is a FIFA-backed campaign to stamp out racism in sports (and chuggers roam the streets of Dublin hoping to badger you to into contributing to the cause), but homophobia is widely tolerated at the professional level. Of the hundreds of Premiership soccer players not one is openly gay. The inevitable terrace chants, massive loss of sponsorship revenue (there is no way Becks would have all those endorsement deals if he wasn’t a red blooded heterosexual) and dressing room awkwardness would apparently be too unbearable. The last one to come out – Justin Fashanu – was publicly disowned by his football playing brother, became a pariah amongst his peers and later committed suicide. The situation is not much different elsewhere, unless you count diving as a sport.

So it’s maybe understandable that gay soccer and rugby teams have now sprung up in Dublin as in the rest of the western world. They give gay men who want to play team sports (and it’s myth that gay men are only interested in figure skating and the like) a place where they can enjoy these games without putting up with the tiresome dropped-soap innuendo, somewhere the post-goal hugs won’t be taken up the wrong way. They’re also a bit like pub teams since most of the men who play on them, as you might expect, drink in the same bars.

But sports teams and tournaments that feature exclusively gay players, while ostensibly a bit of harmless fun for those involved, send out the wrong message to the wider public. They reinforce the still prevalent idea that there is something inherently unathletic – and therefore not quite masculine- about gay men. The phrase ‘gay tennis’, for instance, conjures up images of Olivia Newton John headbands, lower nets and double bounces. Like ‘women’s colleges’ or ‘Irish awards’ the implication is that by keeping out all comers these competitions are somehow not quite up to par. And indeed this suspicion largely corresponds to reality. The Gay Games, which one of the Dublin football teams is apparently aiming to qualify for, is actually an athletic joke. Most of the winners at the last Gay Games would not have even made it to the Opening Ceremony of the ‘mainstream’ Olympics. But they were the heroes of their own little everyone-gets-a-medal paddling pool.

And the sad part is that gay sportsmen don’t actually need this special fenced off area to succeed. Some of the greatest athletes of all time have been gay and they won their trophies and medals against mostly heterosexual competition. However, tellingly they tended to succeed in individual sports, where it matters less what other athletes think of you. Nobody had to pass the ball to Carl Lewis or (Triple Olympic Swimming Champion) Mark Tewksbury. Gay women have also had a long tradition of succeeding at sports and the current Wimbledon champion Amelie Mauresmo came out a few years ago to generally supportive noises.

But it’s different for men. Sports are our testosterone-overloaded substitute for war: they are the ultimate barometer of manliness. And being gay is still seen as being somehow not quite manly. The only way this myth will be truly exploded is if some of the athletic role models, such as the top rugby and soccer players, come out. And this is probably not as far off as it seems: A generation ago it would have been unthinkable for a leader of men to dye his hair and wear a sarong. It was the footballers, lead by Beckham, that made it ok to be metrosexual (italics) and (close italics) a sportsman. They can surely do the same for homosexuality.

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~ by Donal Lynch on March 31, 2008.

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