Football fans could be arrested for homophobic chants - Sports Minister Tracey Crouch
Homophobic chanting from the football terraces should treated as seriously as racist abuse, Sports Minister Tracey Crouch has said.
Ms Crouch said the “small minority” who take part in homophobic chanting should be dealt with in the same way as perpetrators of other forms of hate crime, including being arrested and prosecuted.
“I see absolutely no reason why, in the same way we tackle other forms of discrimination at football, that we can’t tackle homophobia”, she told the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
“It’s a crime; it’s a hate crime and you can be arrested. What is the difference, between that and chanting racist chants?
“I think everyone here would find it very difficult to sit here and draw a line on what is ok and is not ok in terms of hate crime, that’s not how it works in the law.”
She added: “A hate crime is a hate crime, and discrimination is discrimination.”
The Sports Minister added that more needed to be done to educate young people on what constitutes “banter” and what is unacceptable behaviour.
“One of the problems we have, is that there is an issue around about what is banter,” she said.
“I think it’s important that we begin to look at education at schools and beyond about what is banter and what isn’t banter."
SNP MP John Nicolson said the fact that there are no openly gay footballers at senior level made it more difficult for younger gay people.
He said: “If adult men cannot be protected, how can you possibly protect kids at school who are being beaten up?
“That’s a real problem, because we know from all the figures that there’s a significant drop-out rate amongst gay kids at school, because they get bullied and so they stop playing sports.”
Ms Crouch added that polling which shows a majority of professional footballers and fans would be supportive of gay team mates or players means “probably now there has never been a better time to come out”.
She went on to criticise the “disappointing” comments of FA chairman Greg Clarke, who said he would “not recommend” a professional footballer coming out as gay because of the reception they could receive.
Speaking in October, he said: “I'm cautious of encouraging people to come out until we do our part of the bargain and stamp out abuse...
"I am personally ashamed they don't feel safe to come out."
Ms Crouch said: “If someone were to come out they should feel as if they are being supported by the authorities and any abuse would be tackled in the same way that it would be if it was being directed at one of their black team players, so we need to start using all the available means to us.
“I would say to anyone in any sport, that if they felt the time was right to come out, and that’s a personal decision, that they should feel that they have the support from the governing bodies from the sport they are within”.
The minister also encouraged fans to use the ‘Kick It Out’ mobile app as a tool to report hate incidents while at matches, including homophobic chants.