John Amaechi says 'reactive' FA responsible for homophobia

By Alistair MagowanBBC Sport
Amaechi critical of FA anti-homophobia strategy

The Football Association is responsible for a climate of homophobia in the game, according to former NBA basketball player John Amaechi.external-link

The governing body launches a new six-year inclusion and anti-homophobia plan on Monday with no openly gay players among almost 3,000 professionals.

But Amaechi, who came out in 2007 and has been vocal in his criticisms of football's attitude towards homosexuality, says the issue will only be solved by greater diversity among the FA board members - not "posters and platitudes".

The FA plans to use a new video discussing homophobia in football, which features former players John Scales, Brendan Batson and Aidy Williams.

It recently fined former Leicester City player Michael Ball £6,000 after he tweeted homophobic comments and has charged West Ham's Ravel Morrison in a similar case.

Fans have also been banned after homophobic chanting at a game between Southampton and Brighton, and others have been arrested at a recent game involving Millwall and Brighton. external-link

FA launches anti-homophobia campaign

But Amaechi says the FA should stop pointing the finger at others and accept it is to blame.

He told BBC Sport: "I don't understand why football fans aren't more angry by the way they are portrayed by the football authorities.

"If you look at the first horrible video they did on anti-homophobia, it made it very clear that the problem lies with you. You stupid, blue-collar people in the terraces. It's you stupid urban, re black, people on the field. It's your fault.

"Then they sit in their boxes and their boardrooms and all the attention is deflected away from them.

"Well, it's 2012 and they have just appointed their first woman to the board. Does that really tell you they are a progressive organisation or they are now reacting to the fact the focus is starting to shift on to them?

"A board that has just voted a woman on to the board in 2012 is not progressive. They are by definition the problem."

Professional Footballers' Association chairman Clarke Carlisle also thinks the FA needs to make a stand.

He told BBC Sport: "The responsibility lies with the national governing body. They need to make sure they set the precedent of levels of acceptance.

"Then the onus is on the players union, the football leagues, and the individual clubs to disseminate those messages."

Carlisle thinks players would be supportive of an openly gay colleague

The FA's Head of Equality, Sue Law, explained the organisation's plans.

She said: "The FA's action plan, 'Opening Doors and Joining In', is about football's commitment to inclusion and anti-homophobia.

"That sits alongside our intention for the game to draw from a wide and diverse talent pool [in terms of appointing board members and administrators].

"There is support and commitment across this agenda from all areas of the FA with the likes of [England women's manager] Hope Powell and Gareth Southgate contributing to the action plan resources.

"We're seeking to create a 'so-what?' environment and the action plan has had input from groups such as Pride Sports, Justin Campaign, Gay Football Supporters Network, Stonewall and Kick It Out."

But gay-friendly teams such as London-based Stonewall FC and Village Manchester FC believe the FA is not engaging with them.

Both feature gay and straight players in the same side and have found no opposition to playing in leagues against straight teams.

But they feel their examples are not promoted as an example of improving inclusion in football.

Carlisle agrees that the FA board needs to be more reflective of society. But the Northampton Town defender added: "I don't think it is fair to say that a straight, white, old man can't make representative decisions.

"With the right input of course he can, but we need to make sure the right people are around him to for him to get to that decision."

The launch comes against a backdrop in the English game where all 20 Premier League teams have recently signed the government's Sports Charter to tackle homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in sport.

But only 16 of 92 professional clubs, including six Premier League teams, have been willing to openly back the Justin Campaign's Football v Homophobia initiative,external-link which marks the birthday of Justin Fashanu - the only openly gay footballer in Britain - who subsequently committed suicide in 1998.

The campaign aims "to challenge the stereotypes and misconceptions that exist around lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender people and work towards a future where the visibility of LGB&T people in football is both accepted and celebrated."

The Justin Campaign's Alan Duffy said the 16 backers were a "big improvement" after receiving no support from top-flight clubs last season.

Despite recent instances of players being fined, Carlisle thinks the majority would be "fantastically supportive" of an openly gay colleague now.

Having spoken to gay players on an anonymous basis, Carlisle believes the greatest apprehension to coming out would be the reaction in the stands.

But consultant and public speaker Amaechi, who last year was awarded an OBE, says the example of the alleged racial incident between Chelsea captain John Terry and QPR's Anton Ferdinand, shows that football fans are not to blame.

"These cases of racism are being pointed out by fans in the stands, not by officials, not by team-mates on the field," he added. "They deserve a little more credit for where they are in society.

"They have brothers and sisters and parents that are gay and they don't think it is an issue any more."

Amaechi says the new strategy lacks the backing of current players or a senior figure in football.

He added: "If the FA are really serious about ending bigotry, how about they talk to a scientist about how that is done rather than talking to another PR company?

"You are not going to end bigotry through posters and platitudes. If they come up with another video and tell you that's part of their strategy, it's just nonsense.

"Sir Alex Ferguson came out the other day and said very explicitly that racism was completely unacceptable and that, in his opinion, it was something that he would work to eradicate.

"We've never heard that kind of explicit statement from people of his stature about homophobia."