The 2022 UEFA European Women’s Football Championship is set to be an exemplar of LGBTQ+ inclusion and could encourage more sportspeople to come out, benefitting public attitudes towards issues of sexuality, according to University of Gloucestershire’s Dr Rachael Bullingham.
The showpiece tournament hosted by England, which kicks off on Wednesday, 6 July at Old Trafford, Manchester, features a number of openly LGBTQ+ players.
In the England squad this includes 35-year-old Jill Scott in her 10th major England tournament; 27-year-old Arsenal forward Beth Mead; 30-year-old right-back/midfielder Rachel Daly; 24-year old Chelsea left-back Jess Carter; 30-year-old left-back for Manchester City Demi Stokes; 28-year-old Chelsea forward Fran Kirby; and 35-year-old midfielder Jill Scott who has surpassed 150 caps.
Recently, double Olympic athletics champion Kelly Holmes publicly came out as gay.
Dr Bullingham, co-author of Out in Sport: The Experiences of Openly Gay and Lesbian Athletes in Competitive Sport, said:
“Euro 2022 offers LGBTQ+ players visibility on an unprecedented international platform. Unlike previous points in history, female athletes now coming out publicly receive very little backlash, enabling others to follow their lead more easily. This is allowing more players to be open about their sexuality.
“This is partly because women’s sexuality is widely viewed as being more fluid than men’s and has not been historically criminalised in the same way as male homosexuality.
“However, in the past sport has been very hostile to lesbian athletes, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s, but this is no longer the case.
“Most importantly from the perspective of athletes’ wellbeing, my own work has found that openly lesbian sportswomen are much happier after coming out because they no longer have to ‘deceive’ others about their identity.
“Overall the women’s game is more progressive at celebrating openly lesbian and bisexual players, with the 2019 FIFA women’s World Cup alone featuring 40 ‘out’ players, coaches and managers.”
Looking to the immediate future, Euro 2022 is all but sold-out and this year’s attendance numbers are set to shatter records established by Euro 2017. England women’s team manager Sarina Wiegman said: “I am excited by what is possible for this group. We all know this is a huge opportunity and it is one we have to grab with both hands.”
Dr Bullingham, based within the University’s School of Sport and Exercise, added:
“There are many positives to developing awareness and knowledge around homophobia in sport.
“There are, however, some changes and developments to consider and I would call on governments, sports authorities, players and fans to all make a difference by working together and agreeing positive action against homophobia in sports.
“Creating change needs more than just words – it demands education and a willingness to speak out against discriminatory behaviour.”