Why Steven Davies could be the tipping point for gay sportsmen

The England wicketkeeper’s decision could help break down the last taboo in sport.

It shouldn't be news. In 2011, the headline "Sportsman reveals himself to be homosexual" should not provoke oceans of coverage. But it has. The reason for that is simple. Steven Davies, the England wicketkeeper, is only the third professional British sportsman to come out of the closet in the past two decades.

Prior to Davies, the Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas was the only openly gay top-flight sportsman in the UK. The footballer Justin Fashanu came out in 1990 and suffered nearly a decade of abuse before killing himself in 1998. Since then, no professional footballer has dared to reveal himself to be homosexual. It is the last taboo in sport.

Some might dismiss Davies's decision as easy, due to the genteel nature of the sport he plays. They are wrong. Yes, it is difficult to imagine crowds at the Oval erupting in homophobic chants, but sledging in cricket knows few limits. If someone's marital problems or mental issues are fair game, then it's likely their sexuality is, too.

Going on tour in South Africa and the Indian subcontinent – hardly bastions of tolerance for homosexuality – could also prove challenging. His career would no doubt be easier without the stigma of being the only gay man in the sport, which makes his decision incredibly brave.

But his bravery is not what makes his decision important. Davies's decision could well prove the tipping point for male homosexuality in top-class sport.

The critical thing about his coming out is the fact that he is a young, talented – but not great – player. When Thomas came out he had established himself as one of the best players Wales had ever produced, with 100 caps. (Plus, he was a 6ft 3in, 16-stone lump of muscle and could have happily beaten any homophobe into a hateful pulp.)

Davies, however, is 24 and has yet to establish himself as an England regular. Prior to his announcement, he had, in fact, just been dropped. He was not riding a wave of goodwill from a superb Ashes performance. Nor does he have a century of caps or a sackload of winner's medals to point to in a knee-jerk response to bigots.

Davies is simply a young, promising player with his career ahead of him – yet he felt confident enough to become England's only gay cricketer. If he can do it, then so can any other gay sportsman. He could well have dealt a fatal blow to the last taboo in sport.

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.