Troy Townsend and Sophie Cook speak to Sky Sports at WONDERKID screening
Providing positive messages can help make football more inclusive for LGBT people, says Kick It Out’s Education and Development Manager Troy Townsend.
Townsend was speaking to Sky Sports News HQ at a screening of the new short film WONDERKID on Monday night.
The film, directed by Rhys Chapman, depicts a rising star breaking into the professional game who expresses his talent on the pitch, but finds life difficult off it due to other people’s attitudes about his sexuality.
Last month, Football Association chairman Greg Clarke told a Culture, Media and Sport select committee of MPs that football still needs to create a “safe space” free from abuse and that he felt “personally ashamed” that no current players had come out.
Clarke told the committee he “would not recommend” that a footballer come out as gay at the moment, adding they would be “taking a risk” of “vile abuse” and could not yet be offered the “required protection”.
Townsend acknowledges the intense scrutiny on footballers and says for any player who might consider coming out, the response of their team-mates, friends and family are crucial.
“Footballers crave adulation,” said Townsend. “They crave people shouting their name for the positive reasons… we need to make sure that the environment that they work in every single day doesn’t change just because they want to tell people who they are.
“The focus is going to be incredible. No one can tell us any different. But we need to make sure the people around them, the closest people to them, are not talking or thinking negatively about them just coming out and being natural.”
Sophie Cook, AFC Bournemouth’s official club photographer, came out as transgender to her club colleagues and the Cherries squad last summer. She says their response and her ongoing experiences in football have been overwhelmingly positive.
“Before I came out, I was terrified that I’d never work in football again because there was no history of a transgender person working in football,” said Cook, who took part in a panel Q&A discussion on homophobia in sport after the WONDERKID screening.
“But when I actually came out to the players – I was introduced as Sophie to the team at a training session – they all clapped me.
“I was like ‘wow guys!’ I wasn’t expecting it. When my story broke in the press, and people really started to know about what had happened, I had fans coming up to me shaking my hand, hugging me, saying ‘good on you’, ‘thanks for being brave’ and ‘we’re really glad you’re happy’.”
The second hearing of the Culture Media and Sport select committee inquiry into homophobia in sport takes place on Tuesday morning at Westminster, and WONDERKID director Chapman believes growing interest in his film reflects the progress being made.
“The more momentum we got, the more support we were able to get,” said Chapman, when asked about how he secured backing for the project.
“And the message I am getting from within the game is that people realise this needs to change. We’re getting towards the tipping point.”
From: Sky Sports