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Former England footballer says gay player was advised not to come out by lawyer

Written by on 09/09/2021

Former footballer Rio Ferdinand has revealed he encouraged a gay male player to come out – but said the individual was later advised against it.

The now pundit has been giving evidence to a joint committee of MPs and peers, who are listening to views on the draft Online Safety Bill.

While speaking about the impact of racist abuse, the session turned towards issues around homophobia and Mr Ferdinand said he met a “player who had come out and was advised by a lawyer not to come out and speak”.

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Ferdinand: Racism ‘is here and it’s back’

The former England and Manchester United defender added: “I initially said ‘you need to come out and speak your truth and be proud of who you are’.

“The reason why the lawyer advised him not to come out is because every individual is very different and you can’t use a blanket approach.

“(The lawyer) advised him based on his experience with that individual, and he didn’t think that he was strong enough mentally at that time, and have the right pieces in place to be able to withstand the media attention and the spotlight.”

There are no openly gay current players in professional English football.

More on Internet Safety

Mr Ferdinand added that he felt the attention on men’s football meant it was unfair to compare it with how many openly homosexual athletes there were in other sports.

“The amount of eyeballs and the amount of attention and press pages that they’re going to get extra is so much more,” he said.

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“It’s about, ‘are you capable of coming out and being able to withstand that media attention?'”

The Football Association’s director for equality, diversity and inclusion, Edleen John, said her organisation was working hard to make men’s football a more inclusive environment, and one a gay player would be comfortable to come out in.

Throughout the session, Mr Ferdinand also told MPs about the difficulties faced by black football players who have received racist abuse on social media.

Bukayo Saka
Image: Bukayo Saka was one of the footballers who received racist abuse

England’s Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Sake, who are black, were bombarded with online abuse after they missed penalties in the Euro 2020 final against Italy in July.

“When those three black players for England missed those penalties, the first thing I thought was ‘let’s see what happens on social media’ and I expected what happened to happen,” Mr Ferdinand said.

“That’s the disappointing thing and when that is your mindset immediately after a black player who is representing the country, who is doing great things, and they make not a mistake but they miss a penalty and they have to sit there and go through the abuse in the coming days via social media, it’s totally disheartening.

“That’s where it comes to our point and to why we are here in terms of talking on behalf of the football community and that,” he added.

The draft Online Safety Bill includes:

  • Ofcom, the new online regulator, being able to fine companies up to £18m or 10% of their annual global turnover (whichever is higher) if they fail to take down harmful content
  • Ofcom having the power to block access to sites
  • New duty of care rules requiring tech companies to take action not only against dangerous content but also against content that is lawful but harmful, such as information about suicide and self-harm
  • The threat of criminal action against senior managers if tech companies fail to live up to their responsibilities, with the new rules being reviewed every two years
  • Tech firms will have to take responsibility for fraudulent user-generated content, including financial fraud such as romance scams or fake investment opportunities
  • The protection of “democratic content”, meaning platforms will not be able to discriminate against political viewpoints and otherwise banned content will be allowed if it is “democratically important”

While giving evidence, he also discussed the struggles his family had experienced due to racism, saying he had seen members of his family “disintegrate at times”.

He recalled to the committee how he had to explain the racist connotations of banana and monkey emojis to his children, and appealed to social media companies to use technology to limit racist language on the internet.

“You could go to a game, and if you threw a banana on the pitch, there’d be repercussions. But online you can post the banana, you can type and post the banana to a black player or a black person with racist connotations behind it and be fine, and you’re not going to get punished, there’s no repercussions.

“How is that right? It can’t be,” he said.

The Online Safety Bill is designed to tackle online harm and abuse. The joint committee is continuing to hear evidence.

 Sky News

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