Alan Hubbard: Sport has enhanced sexual equality in every sense, but football remains in dark ages

Tuesday, 06 November 2012
Alan HubbardSo Nicola Adams has decided to come out and declare her bisexuality. Good for her. It is one of the best moves Britain's first lady of boxing has made in the ring or out.

The little Leeds larruper, gold medal heroine of 2012, tops the "Pink List" of 101 gay, bisexual and transgender personalities published by the Independent on Sunday.

Four of the first five come from sport – an indication of how attitudes have changed for the better in a year in which sport has enhanced the cause of sexual equality in every sense.

Thankfully, it is no longer an anathema to declare your sexuality – unless you are a footballer. But more of that anon.

Adams' admission has been received with a shrug, not a sneer as might have happened in a less enlightened age.

"So what?" is the reaction of most right-minded folk, with not a bat of the proverbial eyelid.

Nicola Adams 05-11-12Nicola Adams came top of the Independent on Sunday's Pink List after admitting she was bisexual

However, one concern I heard from within amateur boxing is whether it might possibly affect her image in terms of sponsorship and commercial endorsements (she is now the face of the MakeMineMilk campaign).

Will it? Not one iota, I suspect.

If anything being openly gay has even enhanced the popularity of television presenter Clare Balding, voted second to Adams in a Pink List poll which has Paralympic equestrian star Lee Pearson fourth and dressage champion Carl Hester fifth.

Of course, flyweight Adams is not the first boxer to come out fighting this year. The world-ranked Puerto Rican featherweight boxer Orlando Cruz, who competed in the Sydney 2000 Olympics, stunned the fight game by recently admitting his homosexuality.

But the reaction was not hostile. He went on to win his next fight in an atmosphere devoid of taunts or innuendo.

If that can happen in a macho world like boxing then we know how far we have travelled – certainly some distance from that day back in the sixties when the British Olympic figure skating gold medallist John Curry was the victim of gay bashing.

The former British Lions captain Gareth Thomas and basketball icon John Amaechi are also Pink-listed.

John Amaechi 05-11-12Britain's John Amaechi was the first player in the NBA to publicly admit he was gay

According to that list, Adams displays "everything you would expect from a sporting hero". Not least her bravery in coming out.

She seems happy enough to be featured, especially as it coincides with the timely lifting of a three-month ban on the US Amateur Boxing Association imposed by AIBA after it initially refused to remove former President Hal Adonis from its board.

He had alleged that "half the girls [in the US team] have been molested, half are gay", which AIBA declared "outrageous". Removing the ban means that the United States can now enter the World Series of Boxing (WSB) tournament – although as yet women are not included.

Gay sporting icons seem to be in vogue in 2012 – but Aussie swimmer Ian Thorpe insists he is not among them.

Launching his biography last week Thorpe said he is tired of the gay branding and declared: "The rumours are simply not true. I think it's because I don't fit into the typical stereotype of an Australian athlete. I'm a nerd who happened to be good at sport."

Well, now we know.

We also know of a number of homegrown Olympians – one a champion and household name – who are gay, but decline to admit it publicly.

That is their prerogative, but they need only look at Nicola Adams to appreciate they have nothing to fear.

Although they would if they were footballers.

I wonder how many footballers are closet-bound, petrified at the thought of coming out in the one sport where they can be certain they would be subjected to scorn and derision.

Justin Fashanu 05-11-12Former Norwich City and Nottingham Forest striker Justin Fashanu sadly killed himself after admitting he was gay

None have done so in Britain since Justin Fashanu two decades ago. He ended up taking his own life.

It is perfectly understandable that gay footballers – and there are some – prefer to keep it quiet because of the taunting they would receive not only from the terraces –and stands – but in their own changing room.

What is it about a national game which  puts it apart from the rest of sport in attracting those that take perverse delight in being stuck a time warp where being abusive and posturing like Neanderthal creeps is the norm?

Did you hear any effing and blinding, calling the referee a w***** or see monkey gestures at any venue during the Olympics? Or would you at Wimbledon, Twickenham, the Open, or anywhere else sport is played but a football stadium?

Would any other branch of the sports-watching industry behave like the scummy yobs at Old Trafford calling Arsène Wenger a "paedophile?" and chanting, "Are you Savile in disguise?"

Of course not. A certain element of football fans are a nasty breed apart.

Why is it that only football still has to deal with raw prejudice, notably racism, when other sports have either never suffered it or kicked it out long ago?

I cover a lot of boxing, a sport with a larger share of black participants than most.

Yet in my experience, there has never been a scintilla of racism at the ringside. Save one incident.

Marvin Hagler alan minterBritish boxer Alan Minter caused outrage with a racial slur before a fight against Marvin Hagler

That was over 30 years ago when Alan Minter defended his world middleweight belt again "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler at Wembley and declared beforehand: "There's no way I'm going to lose my title to a black man."

Well he did, amid great outrage.

Had it happened today he would have been banned for life, and, and rightly so.

But football now seems shame game beyond control, its administrators in the Football Association and Premier League disgracefully soft-pedalling on the abominable behaviour of players and spectators alike, terrified of upsetting the tycoon television paymasters or the moguls who own the clubs.

Earlier this year an international rugby referee, Nigel Owens, said it all when he reprimanded an errant player with the words:"This is not soccer!"

The well-respected Owens is number 93 on the Pink List.

Can you imagine the horrendous stick a gay ref would take in football?

Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Olympics, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire.
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