Brighton chief Paul Barber says football should do more to fight homophobia

21 February 2017 03:39

Brighton chief executive Paul Barber believes British football needs to use its power to change attitudes about homophobia in the same way it tackled racism.

Barber's club are currently second in the Championship, seven points clear of Huddersfield, having narrowly missed out on promotion to the Premier League in three of the last four seasons.

Having been relegated from Division One in 1983, the Sussex club almost went out of out business in the 1990s but now play attractive football in a state-of-the-art stadium to sell-out crowds.

Brighton's supporters, however, are often subjected to homophobic chants by opposing fans because of the south-coast city's large lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Barber, a former director at the Football Association, Tottenham and the Vancouver Whitecaps, has been at Brighton for five years and thinks considerable progress has been made in terms of addressing the worst abuse.

However, he also believes more can and should be done.

Speaking to reporters at a Sport Industry event in London, Barber said: "I see (homophobia) as a social problem and we haven't solved that yet.

" These things often get laid at football's door because of its profile and contained audience, but it's a wider problem.

"That said, I think football could use its power in a similar way to the 'Kick it Out' (anti-racism) campaign. By focusing on that issue, the game has made a huge impact.

"We have only had a couple of incidents this season with visiting fans at (Brighton's home ground) the Amex, and we have been able to identify them and eject them. But it's harder when it's 1,000 or 1,500 fans chanting something - you can't eject them all.

"But we've always had great co-operation from other EFL clubs when there have been problems and our fans are great at dealing with it, too. When they hear chants of 'Does your boyfriend know you're here?', they come back with 'You're too ugly to be gay' and it usually stops it at source."

Homophobia in sport has been in the news this month after MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport select committee published a report that criticised the sporting authorities for not doing enough to combat anti-gay abuse.

The report said attitudes in sport, and particularly football, are " out of step with wider society".

Citing surveys which suggested 72 per cent of football fans had heard homophobic abuse at matches, the committee said it was "concerned" language of this kind was too often dismissed as "banter".

The report also addressed the apparent reluctance of gay footballers to come out during their careers because of fears about the reception they would receive from fans.

Barber, however, disagreed that a wave of players coming out is the answer to football's problems in this area.

"I don't put much store in this idea that we need to players to come out - we don't expect it of politicians or businessmen and we don't ask straight players to declare their sexuality," said Barber.

"They will come out when they're ready, and if they want to - it's their business, really."

Source: PA