It's time for football to get as tough on homophobia as it is on racism

It will take more than one weekend of footballers wearing rainbow laces to really tackle the problem.

"In football it's obviously impossible to come out – because no-one has done it. No one. It's crazy and sad." They were the words of Robbie Rogers, the former Leeds United player, who decided that once he became openly gay it would be impossible for him to continue in English football. He now plays Major League Football for LA Galaxy, seemingly a more pleasant place for a gay footballer than the home of football.

The saddest thing about the whole affair was that there was barely a single commentator who disagreed with Rogers' assessment that an openly gay footballer would be made to feel like an outcast in English football. Gay footballers have been advised by publicists not to 'come out' as it would damage their careers. British football needs to move beyond token gestures and really confront the homophobia that is putting the game out of step with British society.

Football should show the same determination to root out homophobia that it showed to root out racism over the past few decades. Admittedly, football still has a way to go on the racism issue, but we’ve made considerable progress compared to where football was in the 1970s and 1980s and compared to pretty much every other European country. I can’t remember the last time I heard a racist comment at a football match, whereas they were still relatively commonplace when I first started going to matches in the late 1980s.

On the flip side, football hasn’t made anything like the same level of progress in rooting out homophobia and it really needs to start taking the problem seriously. I’ve heard the chant at Sunderland away matches about the Gallowgate End at St James’s Park being "full of poofs, shits and wankers." Other teams use the same chant about their rivals. Throwaway homophobic words remain commonplace at football grounds around the country – I’ve heard words like "poof", "faggot" and "queer" being used on the terraces so many times in the past few years. It’s only a few years since Spurs fans sang a grotesquely offensive chant based on scurrilous rumours about Sol Campbell.

Football clubs should stop paying lip service to the issue and start taking it seriously. In February, the FA launched a "toolkit" about homophobia in football, but a month later only 29 of the 92 professional clubs had signed up to the football vs. homophobia campaign and even some of those did so half heartedly.   

It’s pretty clear that racist abuse is increasingly dealt with properly by clubs, with supporters being thrown out and banned for racist abuse. They need to start learning from that and get tough on homophobic chanting and homophobic abuse, using real sanctions to show that they’re treating the issue with the gravity it deserves. The football ground shouldn’t be one of the only places in modern Britain where homophobia is seen as acceptable.

There’s obviously a shortage of gay role models in modern football and we’re kidding ourselves if we think that is going to end soon. But that shouldn’t stop top professionals and household names speaking out against homophobia and making clear that they’d be very happy to have a gay teammate. Kick Racism Out Of Football was effective because top footballers were willing to support the campaign and, in many cases be very vocal about their support. They should be prepared to show the same level of support to a campaign against homophobia in sport. And that means more than occasional players appearing shirtless in a gay lifestyle magazine – they should be making the case in the Sun, on Soccer Saturday and Match of the Day.

This weekend, Stonewall, Paddy Power and Joey Barton are encouraging footballers to wear rainbow laces in their boots to signal their determination to eliminate homophobia. It’s a good move and I hope that my beloved Sunderland show their support. But it says a lot that the campaign comes from gay rights campaigners, an Irish bookmaker and a footballer playing in France on loan from QPR, rather than the FA, the Premiership clubs and top Premiership footballers. And it will take more than one weekend of footballers wearing rainbow laces to really tackle the problem. 

The people at the top of English football and the Premiership in particular (one of our great national successes) have to show that they’re taking the issue of homophobia in football very seriously indeed. Homophobic language or behaviour should be no more acceptable on the terraces, or on the pitch, than it is anywhere else in society, and clubs and football authorities have to emphasise that through actions as well as words. Hopefully that will mean that the next time a footballer such as Robbie Rogers decides to 'come out' he will feel comfortable continuing to play in English football.

Joey Barton of QPR wears rainbow coloured shoe laces during the Sky Bet Championship match between Queens Park Rangers and Brighton & Hove Albion at Loftus Road. Photograph: Getty Images.

David Skelton is the director of Renewal, a new campaign group aiming to broaden the appeal of the Conservative Party to working class and ethnic minority voters. @djskelton

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear