In any society, at any point in history, measuring the prevalence of homosexuality has prevented difficulties, and with good reason. After all, why should somebody identify themselves purely by their sexuality? To classify someone based upon the gender they choose the sleep with is as ludicrous a notion as only defining someone has having black skin.
Nevertheless, studies have attempted to highlight the issue. A 2008 poll revealed that 6% of Britons described their sexual orientation as gay, whereas 13% had taken part in a sexual act with someone of the same gender. In a wider context, researchers concur that between 4-10% of any population are homosexual. In Italy, for example, this would equate to potentially 5.8 million gay people living in the country. Despite this, at Euro 2012, an Italian footballer has decided to raise the biggest taboo subject in football.
Antonio Cassano shouldn’t be at Euro 2012. In November, he underwent minor heart surgery that threatened his career. His comments today threaten to undermine him as a human being. When asked about media reports that there were two metrosexual players and two homosexual players in the Italy squad, the Milan forward said: “What’s a metrosexual?” before adding: “Queers in the national team? That’s their business. But I hope not.”
Why is Cassano so frightened? As a man who has recently eulogised that he feels blessed to be alive thanks to his health issues, to be so derogatory and bigoted exasperates. Despite Cassano’s immediate retraction, his use of the word queers pointedly highlights as to why there is currently one openly gay professional footballer, Tobias Hysen. Whilst Hysen plays in the Swedish third division, his brother Anton is in the Sweden squad for Euro 2012. Tobias Hysen was labelled a ‘global one off’ by the BBC. He follows a tragic case.
Much has been written about Justin Fashanu’s tragic life and subsequent death. The rejection by the footballing community that should have accepted him for who he was and not who he slept with. Alas, football, 22 years after Fashanu first came out as being gay, remains insular and unwilling to accept this unspeakable truth.
Nevertheless, hope prevails. My football team, FC Kolektivo Victoria, had the honour of playing in the Justin Campaign Tournament that took place in Nottingham last July. We were up against mainly gay footballers, but did it truly matter? The main aspect is that we were playing against human beings who were playing under the umbrella of a wonderful organisation, dedicated to ensure that Anton Hysen and the plethora of homosexual footballers that aren’t open about their sexuality do not fall victim to depression like Justin Fashanu. The Justin Campaign’s work across schools and clubs can only serve to educate those who think nothing of using slurs like Cassano.
Sadly, being openly gay in amateur football does carry a large stigma. In the UK there exists the Gay Football Supporters Network (GFSN) for whole teams of openly gay players, who have suffered homophobic abuse elsewhere. One of the teams that FC Kolektivo Victoria has links to do have straight players, an issue which has caused division across the network. However, this is a positive move to creating a more tolerant and inclusive environment. Gay footballers would rather be completely integrated into mainstream football rather than be forced into footballing apartheid, yet this is a challenge that prevails, even in 2012.
In a sport perceived as the epicentre of competitive masculinity, football, for all its beauty, can show its ugly side effects with its perception of homosexuality. Playing in the Justin Campaign tournament would challenge all pre-conceived views of what constitutes a gay person. There isn’t a one size fits all stereotype of genders or nationalities, so to attach this to homosexuals seems archaic and inappropriate. By reducing a person to a ‘queer’, Cassano has sadly achieved more for the silently homosexual player than all the wonderful work of groups like the Justin Campaign. Whilst attitudes like this stand, barriers to full integration seem a long and lonely way off.