Early this week a notable article appeared in the German dailies Der Tagesspiegel and the Stuttgarter Zeitung. In it freelance journalist Matthias Sander highlights the work of FARE partner Paris Foot Gay and reports on the continuing existence of homophobia in football. France is no exception in this respect, but just one example among many.
By Matthias Sander
How the president of the French Football Federation arrives at this conclusion is a mystery. According to Jean-Pierre Escalettes, the French charter against homophobia in football “draws attention to something which happily is not widespread”. He therefore sees no reason why his federation should sign the charter, unlike the French Football League (LFP), for example.
This quote by Escalettes is taken from the documentary “Sport and homosexuality. What's the problem?”, which was shown recently on French television. The programme shows that French football, in particular, is no better than other countries when it comes to homophobia. Former France international David Ginola, for example, denies meeting a single homosexual in a career lasting 18 years. “I'd have spotted them in the shower”, he said.
Also illuminating is the scandal that surrounded comments made by Louis Nicollin. The president of first division outfit Montpellier called the Auxerre captain a “little nancy boy” and said they would “take care of him” in the return fixture. Unfortunately there was nothing inherently surprising about this, however, as Nicollin has been conspicuous for similar transgressions in the past. Almost more shocking was the fact that Thierry Roland, one of the country's best known football commentators, found the remarks of his friend Nicollin “funny” – and garnered little reproach. Roland would also find it strange if a well-known player admitted he was homosexual. “One can't imagine there being homosexuals in a football team”, he said.
One could have hoped that the French game had progressed somewhat. There was, after all, a public outcry last October when banlieue side Créteil Bébel refused to play Paris Foot Gay (PFG) in an obvious show of homophobia. PFG describes itself as the first French club where homosexual and heterosexual players officially play in a team. PFG president Pascal Brèthes said: “Since that game was postponed people in France have been able to speak more openly about homosexuality in football. But for many homophobic abuse is still part and parcel of the game.”
Paris Foot Gay is not just a football club, it also fights against discrimination and homophobia. It was PFG who initiated the charter against homophobia, which Paris Saint-Germain became the first club to sign in 2007. AJ Auxerre and, most recently in November 2009, OGC Nice are the only other clubs to follow suit. Olympique Marseille refused to sign the charter, claiming it did not want to emphasise any particular form of discrimination. It had not, after all, signed “a charter against discrimination of Jews, blacks or disabled people”, a spokesperson said.
One club even had to be excluded from the group of signatories. Non-league side FC Chooz from the Ardennes region once counted the first homosexual player to come out in France among its ranks. Initially, Yoann Lemaire had the support of both club officials and team-mates. But Lemaire began to suffer homophobic abuse from players who subsequently joined the club – and suddenly found himself alone.
Lemaire has since brought out an autobiography. In a wink to the secret life led by homosexual players it is called “I am the only gay footballer, or rather I was”. For Lemaire has given up football. He now plays tennis.