With his rainbow armband, Manuel Neuer has highlighted an issue which the football world has generally tended to shy away from. Once of the first footballers to come out was Justin Fashanu, whose bravery in declaring his sexuality ended tragically when he took his own life. After that, football continued as if it hadn't happened. I am often asked, are there no homosexuals in football? If, as it is claimed, that one in every 10 men is gay, that would suggest that there must be two in each squad? I can only recall very few cases being mentioned, either a long time ago or in other parts of the world. Obviously, there must be some, but I think less than is made out. Football was born out of and cultivated a very hard, masculine prerogative to a point where those who didn't share those beliefs were usually excluded.
The bad old days
That is not to say that we shouldn't be concerned by the issue - if there are no gay players in a squad, there might well be in their families or close circle and they deserve, as Neuer has shown, support and solidarity from the football world. Those of us who are over the age of 30 will remember with horror how things were in other times. When I was on national service, I couldn't have imagined what would have happened if a colleague had dared to come out as gay. In those days there was the Law on Dangerousness and Social Rehabilitation which treated homosexuals as "antisocial members of society". Before that, there were ancient laws, Fuero Juzgo, which punished 'heinous crimes’ with the death sentence, as was the case in the navies of practically every country centuries ago.
Attitudes are changing
There is still much progress to be made. We saw how UEFA cracked down on Neuer's rainbow armband and refused to allow the Allianz Arena to be lit up in rainbow lights as to not offend Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orban who by the way is a nasty piece of work; but the situation is better than it was not so long ago. I'm sure Hungary and Russia will both evolve. And one day, even the Arab countries, whose votes are more important to FIFA than a rainbow flag. It is a issue which is gathering pace and if you cannot light up a stadium in rainbow colours, then what is the problem with having flags both in and outside of the ground? It's not a political slogan, it is a slogan for civic decency and football, with a clear, simple message, and it is here to stay. So well done Neuer!