In response to requests by the gay rights group OutRage!, the Met Police are putting in place an action plan to prevent the planned homophobic abuse of Ashley Cole this Sunday at the Chelsea match at Stamford Bridge.
It is one of their biggest operations against footie fans who fuel a culture of homophobic chants and abuse. It’s the last taboo in football and the inspiration behind GAY.com’s Kick Homophobia Out of Football campaign.
Cole previously played for Arsenal and many Gunners fans are angered by his defection to rival team Chelsea FC.
“Arsenal has, so far, failed to take any action to stop the fan’s planned homophobic attacks on Cole,” said Peter Tatchell.
In a letter to Arsenal managing director, Keith Edelman, Tatchell highlighed the issues at stake:
“Jibes and ridicule by fans are acceptable, but not when they involve racism or homophobia. Bigotry has no place in football,” Mr Tatchell added.
“Earlier this year, Cole was the subject of gay rumours, which included allegations involving the use of a mobile phone. Cole denied the allegations and won a legal case in court.
“Nevertheless, Arsenal fans continue to abuse him about his sexuality, chanting ‘Ashley Cole is a rent boy’ and other homophobic insults.
“The fans’ website, Arsenal World, encourages club supporters to take blow-up mobile phones to the Chelsea v Arsenal match this Sunday, in order to taunt Cole over the gay rumours.
“They are also urging fans to download and print-out fake £20 notes, which replace the image of HM The Queen with an image of a tiara-wearing Ashley Cole in drag.
“Many years ago racist football fans took blow-up bananas to matches to abuse black players. They also brandished ‘sambo’ images.
“To taunt Cole, this Sunday many Arsenal fans plan to brandish blow-up phones and fake £20 notes depicting ‘Queen Ashley.’
“Racist and homophobic abuse are both equally sickening and unacceptable.
“There is nothing wrong with a bit of banter by football fans. Much of it is clever, imaginative and very funny. Having moved to a rival club, Ashley Cole has to expect ridicule from Arsenal fans. But taunts involving racism or homophobia are a taunt too far. Racist mockery is wrong, and so is anti-gay mockery.
“OutRage! has written to the Football Association, and to Chelsea and Arsenal football clubs. We are calling on them to condemn homophobic taunts against Cole and to penalise the perpetrators.
“Gay players, or those imagined to be gay, have a right to expect firm action against homophobia, in the same way that football clubs now take firm action against racism.
“The ugliness of homophobia is incompatible with the beautiful game,” said Mr Tatchell.
The police have agreed to all of the demands made by Outrage. Police and Chelsea stewards will be searching all Arsenal fans as they enter the stadium and confiscating homophobic materials.
They will be leafleting and postering the stadium with anti-homophobic messages, including on the big screen.
CCTV cameras will be trained on Arsenal fans to gather evidence for later prosecutions and / or match bans. For this purpose, additional police evidence gathering teams will be deployed at the match.
Chelsea and Arsenal FC’s plan to make a public statement deploring homophobia, in advance of the match.