Sunday, 30 January 2011

Football against corrective rape

Keph Senett is a Canadian writer whose passions for travel and soccer have led her to play the beautiful game on four continents. She also works as a volunteer for The Justin Campaign. This article was originally published on popular football blog In Bed With Maradona.

Corrective” rape refers to the practice of men raping lesbians in an effort to punish them, and “cure” them of their homosexuality. The sexual assault is typically accompanied by prolonged violence and torture, and sometimes culminates in murder. This crime has become systemic in South Africa and black lesbians from poor backgrounds are usually the victims.

According to, 150 women are raped in South Africa every day, more than 10 lesbians are raped or gang raped every week in Cape Town alone, and for every 25 men accused of rape in South Africa, 24 walk free. puts it another way: “South Africa is the rape capital of the world. A South African girl born today is more likely to be raped than she is to learn to read.”

In 2008, South African national team football player Eudy Simelane was raped, tortured and murdered. She died just several hundred yards from her family home. Simelane was a high profile victim, and her case brought international media attention to the crime. The press wasn’t enough. In 2009, Simelane’s teammate Girlie ‘S’Gelane’ Nkosi died after a similar attack.

It’s no coincidence that both women were footballers. In a country that still defines football as a male sport, it’s difficult to say what might have been seen as the more punishable gender transgression: their lesbianism or their choice to play. The world of professional football was notably – shamefully – quiet on the issue.

“Imagine the impact that an openly anti-homophobic and queer positive WPS (Women’s Professional Soccer) might have, globally,” suggests From a Left Wing writer Jennifer Doyle.

“Actually, why leave this to women?” she asks, referring to the WPS. “Imagine posters [of top players] declaring ‘Simelane was my sister.’”

“Part of the reason Girls & Football SA was founded was to help girls and young women feel good about themselves just as they are,” says Jos Dirkx, who created Girls & Football in partnership with Sonia Bianchi. “This was partly influenced through an event that happened in April of 2009 when one of the players of the South African team was killed because she was a lesbian.”

She’s referring, of course, to Eudy Simelane. A quick survey of sports development publications yields countless examples of programs that use sport to empower marginalized communities.

But Dirkx’s program is a standout. Girls & Football SA has taken a proven model (use sports to build self-confidence and create opportunity) and made it intensely personal. Although “corrective” rape affects women from outside the football community, there is a definite link between the perceived gender expression of female footballers and the potential for violence.

Jonathan Clayton spoke plainly when discussing Simelane’s death in The Sunday Times, “Her sexuality and supposedly butch looks were a death sentence in a country in which the sport is still considered a man’s game by many.”

This is the brutal truth about “corrective” rape: it’s a crime perpetrated against women and girls who fail to fall in line with gender norms. That’s why Simelane and Nkosi died. That’s why lesbians are targets. And that’s why football is a particularly effective way to educate and empower South Africa’s girls.

Through strategic partnerships with the Stellenbosch Maties Football Team, Girls Action Foundation (Canada), and Sport in Society (U.S.), girls in Girls & Football SA programs get to participate in workshops run by women in football, where they learn confidence, self-esteem and body ownership.

This last is key. “Life for girls in South Africa is not easy,” Dirkx writes in her article The Untold Story of Women’s Football in South Africa. “It is estimated that one girl is raped every seventeen seconds, [and] that girls have a significantly lower chance of finishing their secondary education than boys do because of teenage pregnancy and their role as care takers in society, and that over 31% of women in South Africa are unemployed.”

Yet while sports development programs like Girls & Football SA are effective in empowering girls, “the positive effect that sport has for these girls and women is also widely ignored,” Dirkx explains. “With the coming of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, there is no better time than now to invest in women’s development through sport.”

Football has proven repeatedly to be an equaliser – an agent of empowerment at the grass roots level – and it is vital that football’s transformative power is not diluted to the point of neutrality when tested on a larger scale.

Girls & Football SA appears to be making progress with their programs. Indeed, according to South African National Women’s Football Team manager Fran Hilton-Smith, “Girls & Football SA will continue [to make], and has already made a massive difference in the lives of young girls in this country”.

That difference is in helping to create a culture where girls are active participants, team members, agents of their own bodies. Where girls get and give support to each other, and where their gender may be expressed – unpunished – on a broader spectrum.

Take Action

Sign Luleki Sizwe’s petition on It calls on South Africa’s Justice Minister Jeffrey Thamsanqa Radebe to declare “corrective” rape a hate crime ( At the time of this writing, the petition has collected over 140,000 signatures and has the modest goal of 150,000 names.

Sign the petition that is urging action to end “corrective” rape (, and which has collected over 75,000 signatures towards a goal of 250,000.

Support Girls & Football SA by donating using their online module (, and by viewing and publicizing their new documentary, “Can I Kick It?”

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Sky's the limit for Keys and Gray

Following Richard Keys and Andy Gray’s now infamous and disparaging remarks about Sian Massey’s abilities to understand the offside rule, Keys has resigned while Gray has been sacked from Sky Sports, which said that Gray was let go "in response to new evidence of unacceptable and offensive behaviour".

The narrow-mindedness of these presenters in suggesting there is no place for women as referees is shocking and the result of Sky’s swift and unequivocal stand against such comments is clear: there is no place in football or its coverage for hostility toward difference.

Unfortunately, Sunday’s outburst against Massey was not the first or only time Gray had displayed obviously sexist and misogynistic behaviour.

His track record of disrespectful comments was confirmed by three of Gray’s female colleagues who spoke to The Guardian, on the condition of anonymity.

All three women confirmed that Sky Sports was a boy’s club, where bullying and sexism were standard.

And while this might have been Gray’s first on camera gaffe, the fact that he apparently contributed to such a culture, and yet maintained the respect of many fans is saddening.

Many have come to Gray’s defence by arguing his comments have been taken out of context, and that it was quite clearly a joke between colleagues who thought they were not being taped.

However, does that mean that jokes not meant for public consumption, however offensive, are acceptable in our society as long as they do not become news?

Does it mean that there is an appropriate context for an overtly sexist conversation?

Hopefully, this incident will bring focus to the necessary equality of everyone involved in the game: players, fans, referees, and presenters, instead of just Gray himself.

As the F.A. continue to see positive results from its Respect Campaign, which promotes the universal responsibility of all involved in football to ensure a fair, safe and enjoyable experience, it is heartening to know that Sky was so quick to discipline and ultimately terminate the contract of one of its best known presenters.

Although it should be added here that Gray’s lawsuit against Murdoch’s News Of The World, over wire-tapping allegations, may itself have had a certain influence.

Obviously, Massey’s gender does not impact her ability to act as an assistant referee, and there should be no place within the game or the coverage of the game for attitudes that undermine the positive impact of diversity and equality.

In response to Gray, I would just like to say “Do me a favour, love. Have some respect.”

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

EVENT: Queer Question Time

Politicians, journalists, and sports stars will come give their frank views on a range of issues.

To celebrate the the launch of LGBT History Month 2011, a special Queer Question Time will take place on February 1.

Hosted by Evan Davis, the presenter of BBC's Today programme, the panel of five will focus on the issues of "tackling homophobia and transphobia in the world of sport".

Guests include MATTHEW PARRIS (writer, broadcaster and Times columnist), SUE SANDERS (LGBT activist and co-chair of Schools Out), JOHN AMAECHI (psychologist, New York Times best-selling author and former NBA basketball player), ANGELA EAGLE MP (Westminster's first out lesbian) and JULIET JACQUES (author of the Guardian's 'Transgender Journey' column).

It takes place in the Southwark Council Atrium in Tooley Street, London, SE1 2TZ.

MC Stewart Who? will open the evening at 7pm with a performance from the Pink Singers, London’s LGBT community choir.

This will be followed by Queer Question Time at 7.30pm.

Admission is free but advance booking is strongly advised as places are limited.

To book your place contact Helen Laker on 020 7525 0848 or

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Sport: a leveller

Encouraging news.

A survey in the United States confirms that sport is "racially progressive" - in simple terms, sport provides more equality than other tiers and forms of society.

The figures within the piece could form the basis for a dozen seperate theses.

But the headline fact is it is confirmation that sport does provide a framework for people to be seen as equals. Confirmation that once you cross onto the pitch/court/arena, the colour of someone's skin is rightfully not an issue.

It is credit to all those agencies, professional bodies and organisations that have highlighted that sport has no place for discrimination at all.

But sadly the same cannot be said for homophobia within sport.

In many ways the LGBT community face greater discrimination within sport then in the rest of society.

Football, for instance, has yet to have its "Jackie Robinson" moment.

This must change.

A quote in the linked article, attributed to a world champion boxer, states: "You need more black athletes doing more positive things."

Substitute "black" for "gay" and the message is the same for the LGBT community.

Regular readers of the blog will know that we are not actively seeking to "out" a footballer - merely to support him or her when they make a very personal decision.

But when such an occassion happens, it will be a massive step along the way.

If anything this report sums up what many of us fighting for equality know: that sport is the ultimate leveller.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Take Your Place in the Beautiful Game: Second Annual Football v Homophobia Initiative

For anti-homophobia advocates, the latter half of 2010 felt like a match decided in PKs: suspenseful, eventful, and outrageous. After a summer defined by the drama and pageantry of the World Cup, things went back to business as usual, and the usual business is telling homosexual players and fans that there’s no place for them in the beautiful game.

In November, Croatian Football Federation President Vlatko Markovic said it, and in December, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said it. In both high-profile cases, the officials were heavily criticized and forced to apologize.

Apologies accepted, sirs – but with a caveat: it’s time for the world of football to accept its LGBT players and fans.

January 19, 2011 will be the second annual Football v Homophobia Initiative, an international day opposing homophobia in football (soccer). Organized by The Justin Campaign, the Initiative has already generated massive global interest, and was observed in eight countries in its first year.

Campaign Director Darren Ollerton hopes to build on this momentum. “As demonstrated by the narrow-minded comments from football industry officials recently, we have a long way to go in terms of nurturing an environment in both grassroots and professional football where sexuality becomes a non-issue,” Ollerton wrote to the group’s Facebook followers. “However, over the last twelve months some incredibly diverse organisations have emerged, facilitating a dense network of people globally who have ensured that homophobia in football is definitely on the public agenda.”

The Initiative offers a fun and easy way for all people to express their disapproval of homophobia in football, and it’s not limited to players. While many individuals and groups observe the event with an exhibition match, there are many other ways to participate as well.

The Justin Campaign organizers urge all supporters to blog, Tweet, and Facebook the event. Use your lists. Tell your league, your friends, your colleagues. Request promotional materials, such as posters, flyers, banners and stickers by emailing, and disseminate them throughout your networks. Use the Football v Homophobia Initiative pre-designed email signature to include in your email communications, and download a pre-written letter to send to your local politicians (both available soon on the new Initiative site at Submit your event proposals before January 19 to be included on the site, and send in your event photos and stories afterwards. Fund raise.

In 2010, the actions taken on behalf of football’s top governing bodies spoke as loud as the words of the game’s top officials. But the people also have a voice, and the Initiative is a way to unify our message: homophobia has no place in the people’s game. Participate in Football v Homophobia 2011.

Keph Senett is a Canadian writer living in Mexico who’s proudly played soccer on four continents. You can read more from her at She’s the Communications Officer for The Justin Campaign.

Ed. Note: This article was originally published on Red Card Homophobia.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Positive action

Regular readers of this blog will be well aware of the actions of Augustine Makalakalane.

The former coach of the South African women's team was suspended after allegations of sexual abuse and homophobia were levelled against him by some Banyana Banyana players.

The South African Football Association has now confirmed that the investigation against Makalakalane will be a "matter of urgency".

The fact it has taken until the coach's contract had expired for Safa CEO Leslie Sedibe to make these comments must be put down to legal reasons.

But at least it is progress on the issue and a sign that allegations of homophobia are beginning to be taken seriously worldwide.

We only hope that, if the evidence warrants it, the full penalty is applied to a man who apparently said he only wanted “straight ladies in his team".

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Make a pledge, make a change

Homophobia is an issue in all sports, not just football.

The image of a male changing room featuring topless jocks wandering around in white towels and uttering horrid bigoted statements about pretty much anyone is an oft scripted scene in many US television shows.

Yet one man from a university in New York is distancing himself from such stereotypes.

Hudson Taylor is a competing athlete - one of the best in college history - and top wrestling coach at Columbia University.

Yet, through a simple act of solidarity - the athlete wore a Human Rights Campaign sticker on his wrestling headgear - the heterosexual wrestler highlighted the plight of many in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.

In addition to being a member of a number of boards, Hudson has now started a pledge to gather support from athletes and advocates around the USA.

More than 500 people have already signed the pledge.

We urge you to have a look at the site - - and take a few minutes to add your support.

"We are at least moving" - Matt Lucas

We must remain optimistic.

This the message from Matt Lucas, the comedy star who shot to worldwide fame with BBC television series Little Britain.

In an exclusive interview with the Justin Campaign the Arsenal fan said, despite personally witnessing homophobic abuse, progress was being made on the issue.

Lucas told the Justin Campaign: "There was a time when it was acceptable to be racist and throw bananas at black players. It is still acceptable to abuse players suspected of being gay, or just to label a player as being gay in order to undermine and intimidate them, but that will eventually fade.

"These things happen gradually. It is better than it was, so let’s appreciate that however slowly we move, we are at least moving."

Lucas added he had seen homophobic abuse directed at both fans and players during games.

He said: "I have experienced both, and from both home and away fans.

"It was hostile, but it came from a minority. And when I complained to the club about it, the complaint was taken very seriously and treated just as it would if I had been racially abused, which incidentally has also occurred."

To read the full interview visit

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Fighting homophobia is more important than austerity

The drive to make budget cuts is dominating the political scene throughout the western world.

Everyone is being forced to cut back on luxuries as taxes and unemployment increase.

Aside from the obvious impact on the public sector, the voluntary and third sector is also set to suffer from the withdrawal of money from Governments.

It is a worrying time for all.

But the head of a major think tank has urged that promoting equality in sport should not fall victim to the belt-tightening measures.

Laurent Thieule, head of Sport and Citizenship, adds that sport plays a crucial role in promoting equality in society.

The fight against racism in the UK is just one example of where highlighting an issue on the field can lead decision makers off it.

But without comparatively minuscule pots of money, progress could not have been made.

It is therefore crucial that people listen to Thieule's words and continue to push for something which is morally right.

Equality is not a luxury, it is a basic human right.