Berlin debate focuses on role models as key to address homophobia in football

Campaigners and members of the football family at the Fare panel discussion „Taten statt Worte. Homophobie im Fußball nachhaltig bekämpfen aber wie?“ on Friday, in Berlin, highlighted role of key figures, players and ambassadors in helping address homophobia while opening the discussion to a wider audience.

Held ahead on 5 June, on the eve of the UEFA Champions League final, the event brought together players, grassroots groups, clubs and football governing bodies, including the Football Association of Belgium and UEFA, to make a public stand against discrimination, share best practice on activities around the topic, and explore what can be done across to combat prejudice and promote an open approach to homosexuality in football.

Drawing on his experience Germany International Thomas Hitzlsperger, who publicly came out as gay in 2014, said: “Fans come from all walks of life. There are those who support the fight against homophobia and help further the discussions, and there other who wonder why would we need to talk about this. That is why we need role models.

“Players are role models. If they send out the wrong messages, how can there be behavioural change in a young players?”

The debate also looked at the need to give drive to activities to pro-actively tackle LGBT discrimination in football. Common barriers in tackling homophobia faced by campaigners and the LGBT community were also discussed.

Highlighting the progress made by European FAs, Patrick Gasser, UEFA Senior Football and Social Corporate Responsibility manager, said: “In Europe there are huge differences on how homophobia is addressed.” He pointed out that while some national federation are pro-actively tackling homophobia others have not yet put the topic on the agenda and need more guidance.

"UEFA gives direction and guidelines on what its member associations should do, but ultimately it is up to the FAs to implement these.

“The football world is a conservative world", leading to a slow change he admitted.

Best practice campaigns around tackling homophobia in football, such as the ones implemented by Bundesliga club Werder Bremer, the foundation of the Belgium FA and the German grassroots groups Discover Football and Fußballfans gegen Homophobie, were shared and discussed.

The event was supported by the fan initiative Fußballfans gegen Homophobie, the Lesbian and Gay Association of Berlin-Brandenburg (LSVD), trade union Ver.di and Berliner Fenster.

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