Football's anti-homophobia ambassador: is he the right man?

Controversial footballer Joey Barton is back in the headlines after becoming the front man for a campaign to stamp out homophobia in the sport.

The 30-year-old midfielder is the ambassador for the ”The Right Behind Gay Footballer” campaign which is urging players to wear rainbow coloured laces in their boots this weekend.

Sets of laces have been sent to all 134 clubs in the English and Scottish leagues, and Barton showed off his usual sense of style by posting a picture of him wearing one as a headband on Twitter.

The campaign is backed by gay rights charity Stonewall and bookmaker Paddy Power.

Stonewall deputy chief executive Laura Doughty says the campaign is designed to get football clubs to make "a visible stand against homophobia in our national game".

However, the campaign organisers appear to accept that change within football will be gradual. "Its focus is on changing attitudes rather than urging players to come out," explains the BBC.

There are currently no openly gay footballers in the UK, and only one - Swedish lower league player Anton Hysen - in Europe. In 2011 German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer urged gay players to come out and ignore any abuse, but the plea, echoed by his international team-mate Mario Gomez, fell on deaf ears.

By persuading Barton to back the campaign, the organisers have made some kind of breakthrough. In 2010 the FA was unable to persuade any player to front an anti-homophobia campaign and eventually released a viral video with no professional players. In another sign of changing attitudes, the police said at the start of the season that they would be targeting anti-gay chants at matches this season.

As usual with Barton, things are not clear cut. Gay website Pink News reports that despite championing gay rights, Barton "dropped the diversity ball earlier this year when he used transphobic language about a rival player". He was admonished for describing rival Thiago Silva as an “overweight ladyboy” on Twitter.  

* Jonathan Harwood is deputy managing editor of The