The FA has pledged to continue leading the way on tackling homophobia and transphobia within football.
At a high-profile launch of the Opening Doors and Joining In campaign at Wembley Stadium, respected names from across the football family came together.
All present confirmed their support for a drive to help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGB&T) communities get actively involved without fear of discrimination or prejudice.
The event included a six-point FA action plan [download HERE] promoting inclusion, widening diversity in the game and addressing discrimination in all its forms – education, visibility, partnership, recognition, reporting and monitoring.
FA General Secretary Alex Horne opened the conference and set the tone for a frank exchange of views which demonstrated how far the game has come, but also how far is still to go. The key going forward was to ensure an environment where discrimination will not be tolerated.
He said: “If you ask me whether there are any gay professional footballers, you are asking the wrong question. What today and the action plan is about is ensuring that anyone can participate in our game without fear, regardless of their sexuality.
“If someone is gay, we want them to feel secure if they choose to be open and know they will not be subject to abuse or ridicule.”
Hosted by Mark Saggers, the event featured a selection of speakers with first-hand experience of the issues including Ben Summerskill, Chief Executive of Stonewall and former England defenders Graeme Le Saux and John Scales. There was also Premier League, Football League, League Managers Association and Professional Footballers’ Association representation.
The FA's Director Of Football Development Sir Trevor Brooking also shared his insight. In recalling his playing days and ongoing work with aspiring youngsters, he spoke of the need for greater education and setting the right example. “We have to make sure we treat everyone the same,” he said.
There was naturally strong FA representation throughout the afternoon. England Women’s Head Coach Hope Powell spoke in support of the matter being discussed in such an open forum.
“I think it’s obviously an issue that’s been long standing,” she said. “The fact that The FA has taken the lead is very positive with their agenda and with what they hope to do with this campaign. So I think the whole day went really well.”
Home Office Minister Lynne Featherstone made clear that whilst this was another positive step and a “red letter day”, there was still work to be done.
“Everything I heard today made me think that this was a genuine, committed serious step forward," she said. "This is day one; we’ll see where we are on day 366. That will be the test.”
There were decisive words from Darren Bailey, The FA’s Director of Football Governance and Regulation, who pledged that strong action was being taken in terms of the rules and processes of the game. He also acknowledged that reporting of issues was key in terms of effective governance.
He said: “Homophobic and transphobic abuse is unacceptable and will be punished. It has no place in society and no place in football. We have the rules, we have the commitment and we have made a promise to change the culture of the game. What we need is to know when abuse happens.”
A successful session concluded with an address from Club England Managing Director Adrian Bevington, who underlined that there was a desire to have a ‘so what’ mentality in the game, should anyone choose to be open about their sexuality. Work would continue to remove barriers and to ensure an eternal legacy where individuals are judged only on their football merits.
“We want to ensure that if any player wishes to be open about their sexuality, then they can do it with the full support of The FA. We want a "So What?" culture in football.”