The present generation of football fans have no problem with top soccer stars being gay. A survey by researchers from the University of Staffordshire in Great Britain showed that 93 percent of fans think homophobia has no place in the game. Despite this, soccer players are still fearful of admitting they are homosexual.
Communications advisor Huub ter Haar thinks it’s time to put an end to this climate of fear surrounding gay footballers. He is working to ensure that gay players are accepted in the world of soccer, just as is now the case with their black colleagues. It's not so long ago that black players were pelted with banana skins. One difference, of course, is that everyone can see the colour of your skin, but your sexual preferences are not visible.
Sport unites people, both the players and supporters. Mr Ter Haar says exclusion doesn’t square with this. The starting point has to be toleration. Research shows that the fans have already been won over. The players are next.
"So most fans don't make a problem, but I think it's fear in the players. Self acceptance is a big problem for most sportsmen."
Mr Ter Haar says it’s not accepted that people should be open about their sexuality in team sports such as football, hockey and volleyball. This makes it even more remarkable that Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas (35) came out as gay at the end of 2009.
Thomas became a national hero. Hollywood actor Mickey Rourke plans to make a film of his life and wants to play the man himself. It was hoped that other sportsmen and women would follow Thomas’ lead, but so far that hasn’t happened – certainly not as far as footballers are concerned.
Football is played all over the world. Mr Ter Haar acknowledges there are countries where homosexuality can be a problem. Every player dreams of a great career. Many hope to play for a top club in Italy or Spain where homosexuality is not so accepted. That’s why they stay in the closet, out of fear that their sexuality could ruin their chances of a transfer to one of these clubs.
Players have to learn to accept who they are and trainers, coaches and colleague footballers have a part to play in this.
"I think it's very important that members of sport boards, trainers and also players are more involved in the problem and that they speak out in favour of gay players. They have to create a climate that’s safe. It's not a matter of just having a lot of success as a gay sportsman; that's only one side of the solution. I think the climate has to get better."
Dreams of the future
Mr Ter Haar admits that the acceptance of homosexuals in the world of sport – and certainly in football – is still difficult territory. But it would be good if supporters, clubs and the players themselves could learn to enjoy the skills of the sportsman, forgetting whether or not he’s attracted to other men.
"Actually I dream about the football world championships in 2022. I hope the final will be in Amsterdam. In the second half, a Dutch player scores the most beautiful and winning goal of the whole tournament. More than three billon people are impressed by this wonderful goal, and at the same time they all take for granted that he's gay. That's my dream."
Mr Ter Haar hopes for a successful Dutch Football Association (KNVB) bid to stage the World Cup in partnership with Belgium. And, after a great tournament, that it will finally get serious about making homosexuality accepted in the world of football. Only out gays in the sport will really make the difference.