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
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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.