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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The Tinder dating app isn't just about sex – it's about friendship, too. And sex

The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, as I found out quickly while using the app.

The first time I met someone using Tinder, the free dating app that requires users to swipe left for “no” and right for “yes” before enabling new “matches” to chat, it was an unqualified success. I should probably qualify that. I was newly single after five years in a committed relationship and wasn’t looking for anything more than fun, friendship and, well, who knows. A few weeks earlier I had tried to give my number to a girl in a cinema café in Brixton. I wrote it on a postcard I’d been using as a bookmark. She said she had a boyfriend, but wanted to keep the postcard. I had no date and I lost my page.

My Tinder date was a master’s student from Valencia called Anna (her name wasn’t really Anna, of course, I’m not a sociopath). When I arrived at the appointed meeting place, she told me I was far more handsome IRL (“in real life”) than my pictures suggested. I was flattered and full of praise for the directness of continental Europeans but also thought sadly to myself: “If only the same could be said about you.”

Anna and I became friends, at least for a while. The date wasn’t a success in the traditional sense of leading us into a contract based on exclusivity, an accumulating cache of resentments and a mortgage, but it had put me back in the game (an appropriate metaphor – people speak regularly of “playing” with the app).

According to Sean Rad, the co-founder who launched Tinder in late 2012, the service was invented for people like me. “It was really a way to overcome my own problems,” he told the editor of Cosmopolitan at an event in London last month. “It was weird to me, to start a conversation [with a stranger]. Once I had an introduction I was fine, but it’s that first step. It’s difficult for a lot of people.” After just one outing, I’d learned two fundamental lessons about the world of online dating: pretty much everyone has at least one decent picture of themselves, and meeting women using a so-called hook-up app is seldom straightforwardly about sex.

Although sometimes it is. My second Tinder date took place in Vienna. I met Louisa (ditto, name) outside some notable church or other one evening while visiting on holiday (Tinder tourism being, in my view, a far more compelling way to get to know a place than a cumbersome Lonely Planet guide). We drank cocktails by the Danube and rambled across the city before making the romantic decision to stay awake all night, as she had to leave early the next day to go hiking with friends. It was just like the Richard Linklater movie Before Sunrise – something I said out loud more than a few times as the Aperol Spritzes took their toll.

When we met up in London a few months later, Louisa and I decided to skip the second part of Linklater’s beautiful triptych and fast-track our relationship straight to the third, Before Midnight, which takes place 18 years after the protagonists’ first meet in Vienna, and have begun to discover that they hate each others’ guts.

Which is one of the many hazards of the swiping life: unlike with older, web-based platforms such as Match.com or OkCupid, which require a substantial written profile, Tinder users know relatively little about their prospective mates. All that’s necessary is a Facebook account and a single photograph. University, occupation, a short bio and mutual Facebook “likes” are optional (my bio is made up entirely of emojis: the pizza slice, the dancing lady, the stack of books).

Worse still, you will see people you know on Tinder – that includes colleagues, neighbours and exes – and they will see you. Far more people swipe out of boredom or curiosity than are ever likely to want to meet up, in part because swiping is so brain-corrosively addictive.

While the company is cagey about its user data, we know that Tinder has been downloaded over 100 million times and has produced upwards of 11 billion matches – though the number of people who have made contact will be far lower. It may sound like a lot but the Tinder user-base remains stuck at around the 50 million mark: a self-selecting coterie of mainly urban, reasonably affluent, generally white men and women, mostly aged between 18 and 34.

A new generation of apps – such as Hey! Vina and Skout – is seeking to capitalise on Tinder’s reputation as a portal for sleaze, a charge Sean Rad was keen to deny at the London event. Tinder is working on a new iteration, Tinder Social, for groups of friends who want to hang out with other groups on a night out, rather than dating. This makes sense for a relatively fresh business determined to keep on growing: more people are in relationships than out of them, after all.

After two years of using Tinder, off and on, last weekend I deleted the app. I had been visiting a friend in Sweden, and took it pretty badly when a Tinder date invited me to a terrible nightclub, only to take a few looks at me and bolt without even bothering to fabricate an excuse. But on the plane back to London the next day, a strange thing happened. Before takeoff, the woman sitting beside me started crying. I assumed something bad had happened but she explained that she was terrified of flying. Almost as terrified, it turned out, as I am. We wound up holding hands through a horrific patch of mid-air turbulence, exchanged anecdotes to distract ourselves and even, when we were safely in sight of the ground, a kiss.

She’s in my phone, but as a contact on Facebook rather than an avatar on a dating app. I’ll probably never see her again but who knows. People connect in strange new ways all the time. The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, but you can be sure that if you look closely at the lines, you’ll almost certainly notice the pixels.

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad