Homophobia, football, and the French kiss making headlines

A clip of two footballers kissing in front of a stadium full of fans raises questions about homophob

A viral video of two French international footballers tenderly kissing in front of a stadium full of fans has entranced the Francophone media. After scoring against Germany in a friendly match, Olivier Giroud is shown grabbing his teammate Mathieu Debuchy's face with both hands and kissing him on the lips. As one blogger breathlessly wrote, "It was fleeting but passionate."

The clip was played repeatedly on French news channels in slow motion and from a variety of different angles, with pundits and fans agitatedly debating whether it was a moment of harmless heteronormative bonding, or something altogether more subversive. Asserting his heterosexuality, Giroud told the media, "We simply brushed [cheeks]. I was just thanking him. I am an affectionate person. There's nothing more to it." Despite the fact that these two men are resolutely straight, the reaction to the clip raises the question of why a moment of apparent homosexuality in the context of a football match raises so many eyebrows. Sophia Aram in Le Monde asks why:

The virility of football players is so fragile, so sensitive. Why do football players, more than others, need reassurance and to reassure others about their heterosexuality? When will there be a real campaign against homophobia in football? Pictures of star players with open mouth kissing with the slogan, "Football is a sport for gays too"?

Not soon, is the short answer. As a recent BBC documentary highlighted, there are some 5,000 professional footballers in Britain and not one is openly gay. So far, the only footballer who has come out was Justin Fashanu in the early 1990s, a decision which cost him his career and ultimately his life. After a number of front-page scandals, family disputes and taunting from his manager Brian Clough who repeatedly called him a "poof", Fashanu hanged himself. His brother, John Fashanu, said in an interview last week that his brother's claims were merely attention-seeking publicity stunts:

What was a concern to me was somebody going and screaming on the rooftops "I'm black" or "I'm heterosexual" or "I'm gay" to get publicity or money. Making up stories to get attention.

John Fashanu also added that not only was his brother not gay, but that there were no gay footballers at all. "It's 'a macho man's game', he claimed. Given how pervasive these attitudes still seem to be, it is hardly surprising that no other gay footballers have followed in Justin's wake. That is not because they don't exist. The UK's leading purveyor of celebrity secrets, Max Clifford, has claimed that he personally knows "probably half a dozen [players] ... who are either gay or bisexual". He added that footballers won't come out because "'their career would be finished if they were known to be openly gay". He added that an openly gay footballer would be "totally unacceptable to the other players. They would be ostracised...they are as frightened now as they would have been ten years ago."

However, the FA has finally creaked into action. Football's illustrious governing body has begrudgingly launched a campaign to tackle homophobia in the sport with the avowed aim of promoting a "So What?" culture. The FA official in charge of the campaign, Adrian Bevingon, said: "We want to ensure that if any player wishes to be open about their sexuality, then they can do it with the full support of the FA." While this is a positive development, the only achievement of the campaign hitherto has been to send posters out to dressing rooms of the 92 professional teams in England. Given the huge amount of effort put into stamping out, kicking off and showing a red card to racism, the FA's anti-homophobia campaign is distinctly feeble.

In the early 1990s, John Fashunu said of his gay brother, "I wouldn't like to play or even get changed in a facility with him. That's just the way I feel so if I'm like that I'm sure the rest of the footballers are like that. " It remains to be seen if the French kiss that was seen around the world could change all that.

Olivier Giroud and Mathieu Debuchy kiss after a goal during a friendly football match Germany vs France. Photograph: Getty Images
Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.