A former Premier League player has become the first professional footballer in Britain to be hit with a homophobia conviction, after he was found guilty of making offensive gestures towards fans.
Colin Kazim-Richards had claimed he was merely engaging in “banter” with the crowd at his former club, Brighton and Hove Albion, while playing at their ground for Blackburn Rovers.
The 27-year-old was accused in court of simulating a sex act on Brighton defender Wayne Bridge after backing into him, and of making a homophobic “w*****” gesture towards spectators.
Kazim-Richards claimed his actions were not meant to be offensive and had been misinterpreted because Brighton has a reputation for its large homosexual community. The striker, who was on loan with Blackburn at the time and now plays for Turkish club Bursaspor, said he had been reacting to rival fans chanting “You fat b******” and “You’re fat and you know you are” at him.
He told Brighton Magistrates’ Court: “I was interacting with the fans. I was basically doing what they were doing to me. I was having a bit of banter back.”
Kazim-Richards added that he did not agree with discrimination in “any shape or form” and had taken part in the Kick It Out anti-racism campaign.
However, Christopher Cannon and his son Daryl, who were working as press stewards during the match at the Amex Stadium on 12 February last year, said they found his gesture offensive and believed it to be homophobic.
Brighton fan Darren Hastings claimed he saw Kazim-Richards make the “utterly disgusting” gesture four or five times during the match.
The prosecution comes as football is arguably just beginning to face up to longstanding allegations of failing to deal with anti-gay attitudes.
In January, the former Aston Villa and Everton midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger became the most high-profile player to come out, saying he wanted “to further the debate about homosexuality”. His announcement came almost a year after the ex-Leeds winger Robbie Rogers revealed he is gay.
However, campaigners criticised the punishment given to Kazim-Richards – a fine of £750 plus £620 court costs and a £75 victim surcharge – as insufficiently tough.