I had high hopes that the culture of homophobia in football was about to be effectively challenged a couple of years ago when players demonstrated their support for LGBT+ players and fans by wearing rainbow coloured boot laces.
I’m truly saddened that progress has not been nearly as fast or as far reaching as I would have hoped.
I hear the homophobic chants when I see our teams play and I’m even told that school teams from our city face a barrage of homophobic abuse when playing outside the city, which is absolutely disgraceful.
It’s heart-warming that so many Premiership teams now have gay supporters’ groups. Our own Proud Seagulls was set up at the exciting time the club was promoted and goes from strength to strength. I’d like to thank everyone involved for their hard work and enthusiasm in sustaining this fantastic group.
The real test will be when a player comes out. No doubt their own club will be extremely supportive, but I can understand the fear of doing so given what we continue to witness at some grounds.
Events in Bulgaria recently were shocking too, as racist abuse marred a great result for England. It’s quite hard to believe that they were only fined 75,000 euros by UEFA.
We know sadly that our own country isn’t immune from such disgraceful behaviour and there are far too many racial abuse incidents at games here. Raheem Sterling’s thoughtful comments on how the press references players from ethnic minorities demonstrates the issue isn’t confined to a small number of idiots at the odd match.
If elected, key priorities for me will be to campaign for stronger action and tougher penalties on individuals and teams where racist or homophobic abuse is tolerated.
So, a few words on … VAR. As everyone has an opinion here’s mine! I believe the game is better off with it than without, but only when VAR is used well. Poor calls by referees are a fan’s greatest (maybe!) frustration and I see VAR as resulting in fewer incorrect decisions.
The problem is how to effectively ration use. There is a risk it is completely taking over the game, when it is best used as a tool for referees to decide on particularly tricky penalties and suchlike.
If the footage requires multiple viewings on an especially marginal issue, then the original referee’s decision should be upheld and we should get on with the game.
Lastly I’d like to congratulate Brighton and Hove Albion FC and Whitehawk FC on the fantastic work undertaken by Albion in the Community and Hawks in the Community. While my opening remarks focused on LGBT+ and racism challenges in the game, it’s important that our game plays a full role in developing communities and supporting the most vulnerable.
Their work demonstrates how sport can be a force for good in our society and, should I become an MP, I pledge to give my full backing to this work and to others like it, not just here, but everywhere I can.
So, I hope to see many of you supporting our local teams through the season and I’d like to finish by wishing Brighton and Hove Albion and Whitehawk FC all the very best for this season and beyond.
I hope when you read this we are even higher in the leagues!
Joe Miller is the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Brighton Kemptown.