The Last Word: Self-interest leaves rainbow warriors thin on the ground

Campaign to support gay players has become a missed opportunity to tackle sport's last taboo

Football has a duty of care to the gay player who is so scared of the consequences of his sexuality that he cannot be himself. One day, when it is not so consumed by corporate vanity, suspicion and self-regard, it might get around to fulfilling it.

The piecemeal response to the rainbow-laces campaign, designed to accelerate change and confront attitudes in the fight against homophobia, hints at the hypocrisy and hesitancy which betrays those fearful of coming out.

The initiative is unnecessarily tainted by its association with an infamously opportunistic betting company. But a chance to make a collective statement has been squandered. The politics of protest ensure that activists in related fields, such as anti-racism, have been alienated by the audacity of Stonewall, the gay-rights group.

The Premier League and its clubs have paid lip service to the issue, but only Everton have made a conscious decision to support the cause. Everyone in an overtly masculine environment is missing the point by dwelling on self-interest.

Pause for a moment, and consider what the gay professional footballer is going through. He derives some comfort from the visibility of the campaign, but feels claustrophobic. He continues to be confined by the culture of his sport and intimidated by the knowledge that, to be true to himself, he must make a terrifying leap of faith.

He is concerned about the strength of his support network, and the burden he will place on his nearest and dearest. Before anything becomes public he must prepare his family. He may be married. His parents are unlikely to have hidden their pride at his achievements.

It does get slightly easier every time the secret is shared. But some friends will resent the realisation they have been lied to. It takes time to repair fractured trust.

Liberation from a double life is difficult, but fulfilling. Depression is a threat. The fear of rejection by teammates feels very real. The dressing room has a distinctive code, sacred professional protocols. The gay player craves acceptance from team- mates, but is worried he has contravened the conventions of his trade.

Ultimately, however, he discovers he is not defined by his sexual orientation. There is a risk of initial abuse from social inadequates who seek solace in crowds. It is likely to be horrible, deeply wounding. But it will not last long, because the vast majority of decent supporters will operate a self-policing policy. Respect will be forthcoming.

Do not take my word for it. The preceding insight was supplied by Gareth Thomas, the former Wales and British Lions captain who became the first professional athlete in a team sport to come out in December 2009.

I have come to know him as a man of moral courage and natural warmth. He has been enriched by the process of self-discovery, though it has been painful. His charitable foundation works in schools to combat all forms of bullying. He remains a complex character and still feels uncomfortable at being regarded as a pioneer, but is a source of inspiration and advice to those steeling themselves to acknowledge their sexuality. They include footballers who have confided the complexity of their situation.

Despite the dissipation of its message, Thomas believes the rainbow-laces campaign has the potential to be hugely beneficial. Footballers, followed by millions, are in the perfect position to promote change. The sight of players signalling solidarity invites optimism that sport's last taboo is on its last legs. Football is a people business. It highlights the best and worst in human nature. Thomas has seen each, but gains strength from the first thing he learned when he told his team-mates the truth: you are never alone.

Suarez is back but will not change

Tribal conventions will be observed, and Luis Suarez will be welcomed back as a Liverpool player with the fevered sentimentality reserved for prodigal sons.

It is somehow appropriate that his proposed comeback is at Old Trafford on Wednesday. The apathy usually generated by the early rounds of the League Cup doesn't suit his inflammatory character.

Already Brendan Rodgers is talking up the seamless reintegration of a player whose only activity since he bit Branislav Ivanovic in April has been at international level with Uruguay.

Victor Moses has been on loan at Anfield for a nano-second, and is hailing Suarez as "a top lad". We can expect more such tributes to the talismanic striker before his return.

Yet, before collective amnesia assumes epidemic proportions, a word of warning: Suarez will not change. It is in his nature to place everything in the context of his best interests.

He is still the same man who repaid the faith and unfeasible loyalty of his supporters by aggressively agitating for a move to Real Madrid or, at a pinch, Arsenal.

If he is still at Liverpool this time next year, we are truly living in an age of miracles and wonders.

Force for good

Peter Kay turned his flaws, as an alcoholic and drug addict, into a force for good. His foundation of the Sporting Chance clinic with Tony Adams saved lives. His premature death robs football of one of the few whose first instinct is to give rather than receive.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Wes Brown is sent-off
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower