Wales rugby star Gareth Thomas has challenged homophobic trolls to a face-to-face meeting while making a documentary for BBC Wales.
The invitation came when Gareth, known as ‘Alfie’ to rugby fans, was subjected to personal abuse online while making Alfie v Homophobia: Hate in the Beautiful Game
. The documentary will be broadcast on July 27 - the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales, and follows a report published earlier this year by a committee of MPs who praised the acceptance and inclusion of LGBT people in sport generally, but were notably scathing and damning of football.
Thomas issues the invitation to members of a Crystal Palace message board after threatening homophobic comments are posted online following Brighton and Hove Albion’s promotion to the Premier League. Thomas also witnesses homophobic chants and gestures by Leeds United fans at a match against Brighton.
“The most surprising thing out of everything,” says Gareth, “is the acceptance of the level of abuse - the normality that abuse has been given. I find that unacceptable.
“It’s a human right that we are allowed to be who we want to be - but within this game if you’re not the stereotypical male or female we expect you to be then we’re allowed to abuse you for 90 minutes.
“I would give my right arm to sit down in a room with one of these people, just to understand their views.”
Gareth invites members of the message board to a local venue - and turns up, ready for a difficult exchange of views with some of the so-called “keyboard warriors”.
It’s ten years since the rugby star announced his sexuality to the world. In the programme he opens up about the “years of torment” he’d been through before he announced he was gay, having to hide who he really was from the rest of the world.
But he says he was pleasantly surprised by the reaction to the news by those around him.
“It took my teammates, my friends, my family, probably 30 seconds of contemplation to be able to say ‘it doesn’t matter’. And to me, all of a sudden, life was completely different.”
The programme follows Thomas’s personal mission to tackle homophobia in football, and he also attempts to meet some of those who run the game to discuss what support, if any, there is for a gay player who decides to ‘come out’.
Of more than 5,000 professional footballers in the UK, none are openly gay. Only one professional player, Justin Fashanu, has ever come out while playing the game in the UK. Having been accused of sexual assault, Fashanu killed himself in 1998.
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