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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Shadow Scottish secretary Lesley Laird: “Another week would have won us more seats”

The Labour MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath on the shadow cabinet – and campaigning with Gordon Brown in his old constituency.

On the night of 8 June 2017, Lesley Laird, a councillor from Fife and the Labour candidate for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, received a series of texts from another activist about the count. Then he told her: “You’d better get here quick.”

It was wise advice. Not only did Laird oust the Scottish National Party incumbent, but six days later she was in the shadow cabinet, as shadow Scottish secretary. 

“It is not just about what I’d like to do,” Laird says of her newfound clout when I meet her in Portcullis House, Westminster. “We have got a team of great people down here and it is really important we make use of all the talent.

“Clearly my role will be facing David Mundell across the dispatch box but it is also to be an alternative voice for Scotland.”

At the start of the general election campaign, the chatter was whether Ian Murray, Labour’s sole surviving MP from 2015, would keep his seat. In the end, though, Labour shocked its own activists by winning seven seats in Scotland (Murray kept his seat but did not return to the shadow cabinet, which he quit in June 2016.)

A self-described optimist, Laird is calm, and speaks with a slight smile.

She was born in Greenock, a town on the west coast, in November 1958. Her father was a full-time trade union official, and her childhood was infused with political activity.

“I used to go to May Day parades,” she remembers. “I graduated to leafleting and door knocking, and helping out in the local Labour party office.”

At around the age of seven, she went on a trip to London, and was photographed outside No 10 Downing Street “in the days when you could get your picture outside the front door”.

Then life took over. Laird married and moved away. Her husband was made redundant. She found work in the personnel departments of start-ups that were springing up in Scotland during the 1980s, collectively termed “Silicon Glen”. The work was unstable, with frequent redundancies and new jobs opening, as one business went bust and another one began. 

Laird herself was made redundant three times. With her union background, she realised workers were getting a bad deal, and on one occasion led a campaign for a cash settlement. “We basically played hardball,” she says.

Today, she believes a jobs market which includes zero-hours contracts is “fundamentally flawed”. She bemoans the disappearance of the manufacturing sector: “My son is 21 and I can see how limited it is for young people.”

After semiconductors, Laird’s next industry was financial services, where she rose to become the senior manager for talent for RBS. It was then that Labour came knocking again. “I got fed up moaning about politics and I decided to do something about it,” she says.

She applied for Labour’s national talent programme, and in 2012 stood and won a seat on Fife Council. By 2014, she was deputy leader. In 2016, she made a bid to be an MSP – in a leaked email at the time she urged Labour to prioritise “rebuilding our credibility”. 

This time round, because of the local elections, Laird had already been campaigning since January – and her selection as a candidate meant an extended slog. Help was at hand, however, in the shape of Gordon Brown, who stood down as the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath in 2015.

“If you ever go out with Gordon, the doors open and people take him into their living room,” says Laird. Despite the former prime minister’s dour stereotype, he is a figure of affection in his old constituency. “People are just in awe. They take his picture in the house.”

She believes the mood changed during the campaign: “I do genuinely believe if the election had run another week we would have had more seats."

So what worked for Labour this time? Laird believes former Labour supporters who voted SNP in 2015 have come back “because they felt the policies articulated in the manifesto resonated with Labour’s core values”. What about the Corbyn youth surge? “It comes back to the positivity of the message.”

And what about her own values? Laird’s father died just before Christmas, aged 91, but she believes he would have been proud to see her as a Labour MP. “He and I are probably very similar politically,” she says.

“My dad was also a great pragmatist, although he was definitely on the left. He was a pragmatist first and foremost.” The same could be said of his daughter, the former RBS manager now sitting in Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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