I find it extremely perplexing that after twenty years of running a table tennis club and a full forty years of involvement in table tennis, I cannot recall a single instance of a player openly declaring his/her homosexuality. Surely if the 'one-in-ten' statistic is anywhere near accurate, London Progress Table Tennis Club must have had its fair share of gay members. Similarly, the English table tennis community ought, governed by that same statistic, to have had hundreds, if not thousands of gay players over the past 100 years. Yet an eerie silence hangs over the whole question. Just where are our gay table tennis players?


Of course, in a rational world, a person's sexuality is nobody's business other than their own. Indeed, it is possible, though highly implausible, that many gay people within the table tennis world feel no need to declare their homosexuality because they feel no pressure to do so. Perhaps my own club has created a sufficiently relaxed and accepting atmosphere that gay people could just be themselves without feeling the need to make an issue of their sexuality. Perhaps a differing sexual persuasion was and is of no more importance than the colour of a player's eyes or the colour of a player's skin. I would like to think so. Nevertheless, I find it astounding that not a single table tennis player has ever openly declared their gayness. So I have to ask myself a serious question: was there and is there a hidden homophobia at work within my club and by extension, the wider table tennis community? And more to the point; is there a hidden homophobia at work throughout English sport? 


All this is particularly topical given that the Football Association has taken the recent decision to delay the distribution of an apparently hard-hitting film highlighting the problem of homophobia throughout the football world. In a Guardian article 10/2/10 entitled, 'Football's last taboo', Patrick Barkham writes, 'While English football's administrator's dither, homophobia endures in the modern game. The stadiums may be plusher than ever but they still reverberate to offensive anti-gay chants, and homophobic banter is widespread in the dressing room.'


Of the 4000 or so professional footballers in England and Wales, no-one will openly acknowledge that they are gay, and in the past only Justin Fashanu has declared his homosexuality, of which the associated pressure was more than likely to have been a major catalyst to his subsequent suicide. It is claimed by informed sources that there are no less than twelve Premier League players who are gay yet that same eerie silence hovers over football as it does over table tennis.


According to the advice of publicist Max Clifford, gay footballers should keep their sexuality secret because, football remains in the dark ages, steeped in homophobia. Chief executive of the FA concurs; 'There's no point beating around the bush, football is a macho world but then so was the armed forces and that has changed.'


Partrick Barkham goes on to quote Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of campaigning pro gay organisation, Stonewall who describes football as, institutionally homophobic. Summerskill claims, The FA has been in denial at a senior level, and until recently they did not acknowledge that there was any serious problem. He hammers home the point by noting, We're sending openly gay and lesbian people to fight in Afghanistan but we can't send openly gay people to fight for the World Cup this summer.


In one sense the question of homosexuality in the world of sport is deeper and more complex than simply creating the environment where gay performers and participants feel relaxed about their sexuality. The bigger question is whether gay people feel inclined to enter the world of sport at all. Just how inclusive and welcoming are our local sports clubs, even those which we might not consider part of the macho world of football and rugby. The ongoing war against prejudice in sport, be it homophobia, racism or sexism, always has two fronts; at the elite level and at the grassroots. It's somewhat hypocritical lambasting our professional clubs if our own community clubs are failing to knock down the age old barriers of prejudice.


For myself, I must confess that I cannot recall, throughout my twenty year tenure in table tennis administration, carrying out one single positive pro-active policy to specifically combat homophobia. It was always in the too hard basket. On the racial, cultural and disability fronts, our club record was exemplary but on the question of homosexuality there was a deafening silence. Too problematic perhaps? Too difficult to confront? Too many other priorities? Stick it at the bottom of the in-tray and get on with winning the next championship. Was I actively looking for a solution or was I, in fact, part of the problem?


End JPK 15/02/10

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 29 July 2018 17:28 )