In this roundtable discussion, which will mark the launch of Birkbeck Sports Business Centre’s own Dr Andy Harvey’s new text Boys will be Boys? An Interdisciplinary Study of Sport, Masculinity and Sexuality, we will ask whether we are seeing the last of the ‘last taboo’ in football or whether there is still a long way to go before full equality is achieved.
The relationship between male team sports and the LGB&T (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans) community has historically been marked by exclusion, mistrust and violence. That history, which has its antecedents in the late nineteenth century, ran to a lesser or greater degree throughout the twentieth century. The popular, catch-all term for the phenomenon is ‘homophobia in sport’.
Even as significant progress was made in the late twentieth century on legislative rights and acceptance of LGB&T people into different walks of life, including politics, business and entertainment, male team sports were often figured as a last bastion of heteronormative masculinity. As a result, sports, and especially football, were seen as off limits to the LGB&T community. It was an exclusion that was very often embraced by LGB&T people and gay men in particular, many of whom regarded football with a large degree of contempt. Football wanted nothing to do with the LGB&T community, who, by and large, were happy to oblige.
This scenario held (more or less) true until the recent past, since when significant and far-reaching changes have been observed in large sections of society, including sports. New research from academic sociologists, including one of our panellists at this seminar, has shown that the culture of homophobia that was prevalent in the pre-millennium years has not only begun to fade but to be replaced by a more open, inclusive masculinity among younger men that embraces difference and refuses to be figured as homophobic. Other surveys, notably from campaign groups such as Stonewall, also represented on the panel, acknowledge that significant steps towards inclusion have been made. However, in contrast to the academic studies, they still find unacceptable levels of homophobia throughout society, including sports. This seminar will help to shed some light on these divergent findings.