Croatian Soccer Official Apologizes for Anti-Gay Remark

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Nov 10, 2010

The president of the Croatian Football Federation issued an apology for having told a newspaper that he would "certainly" not permit a gay player on the Croatian national team.

Vlatko Markovic made his remark in the course of an interview published Nov. 7 in Croatian newspaper Vecernji List. A few days later, on Nov. 10, Markovic tendered his apologies, in the wake of an outcry that included the threat of legal action from two GLBT equality groups, a Nov. 10 Associated Press article said.

In addition to telling the newspaper that he would not allow a gay player onto the national team, Markovic went on to suggest that homosexuality is a pathological condition. When asked whether he knew of any gay professional soccer players, Markovic replied, "No. Fortunately, only healthy people play football."

GLBT advocacy organizations Kontra and Iskorak said that they intended to file complaints with Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) about the remarks. The groups also claimed that the comments were "discriminatory" and in violation of the law. A complaint to UEFA could result in a fine or suspension for Markovic, according to media reports.

Such penalties for soccer officials espousing anti-gay sentiment have been handed down before, the AP article said. In 2007, Otto Baric was hit with a fine by UEFA for an anti-gay comment he made in a 2004 interview. Baric, who was at the time the coach for the Croatian team, declared, "there is no place for homosexuals in my team. Homosexuality is not good."

Markovic said in a statement that appeared on the website for the soccer federation that his earlier comments had been "clumsy," and said, "It was not my intention whatsoever to insult or hurt anyone." Added the official, "I have nothing against members of any minority, least of all against those of same-sex orientation," Markovic said in a statement on the Croatia soccer federation's website. "Once again, I apologize to all those who were hurt."

The world of sports has shown glimmers of shedding what some say is institutionalized homophobia, but challenges remain. Earlier this year, a public service video against homophobia lost the participation of star athletes, and the launch of the completed video was delayed by the U.K.'s soccer authority, the Football Association. British GLBT equality advocate Peter Tatchell, excoriated the decision in a press release last February, declaring, "While the FA and other national football associations have long challenged racism, the video is the first high-profile attempt to give homophobia the red card. A world first for football, its [timely release] would have given the FA huge prestige; stamping its mark as a trail-blazing organization that is leading the world in making football welcoming and safe for gay players, fans and officials."

The ad showed a man behaving in every-day life the way that soccer fans sometimes conduct themselves at matches, with a man hurling homophobic slurs at a newspaper vendor, a man on the subway, and office colleagues, calling them "queer scum," "ass bandit," and "faggot," among other epithets. The ad asked why behavior that is plainly not acceptable on the street or in a professional environment should be tolerated in the stands.

"I suspect the real reason for the deferment is that when top FA officials saw the video they felt uneasy over its visceral homophobic language, even though this abuse is intended to expose and shame bigots," Tatchell said in the release. "They lacked the confidence to defend the video they commissioned, in the same way they have often failed to robustly condemn homophobia on the pitch."

Even in the breach, the video sparked debate about anti-gay slurs and homophobic attitudes among soccer fans and among the athletes themselves. SoccerAmericaDaily reported in a Feb. 12 article that U.K. newspaper The Guardian carried an op-ed by Patrick Barkham declaring that, "While English football's administrators 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 dressing rooms."

SoccerAmericaDaily noted that there are an estimated 4,000 pro soccer players currently active in England and Wales, but that none of them have come out of the closet. But the only gay soccer pros that have publicly disclosed their sexuality have done so after retiring from the game--a trend that reflects how American athletes, whether in football, baseball, or basketball, approach the issue.

One exception is Cardiff Blues rugby player Gareth Thomas, who came out as gay late last year, setting off a media frenzy. In the midst of the shockwaves that Thomas' coming out generated, British publicist Max Clifford said that U.K. sports has plenty of homosexuals on the pitch, but that fans are still not ready to accept that pro athletes can also be gay. Clifford said that he had advised two gay athletes to stay in the closet because coming out would be harmful to their careers.

Clifford's view would seem to be the received wisdom: the delayed video ended up following an everyman, but was initially meant to feature pro soccer stars stepping up to the camera to denounced homophobia. The problem was that none of the athletes wanted to be involved with a "gay video," and so the project was re-imagined, according to a Feb. 12 ESPN article.

Next: The State of Play for Gays in the States


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