“We still lack the culture to be able to speak frankly”

Christian Rudolf heads the contact point for the German Federation for Gender and Sexual Diversity, which was set up in early 2021. In an interview with Kicker editor Patrick Kleinmann, Berliner looks at progress and ongoing complaints at clubs, associations and at the grassroots level.

Mr. Rudolph, how close is the relationship between the LGBTIQA* community and football?

It has grown in recent years, only through initiatives such as gay and lesbian fan clubs and through the DFB contact point, which is linked to the LSVD. There are also more and more contacts with individual professional clubs. But it could be much more than that.

The big issue is tolerance: How do you feel about the football microcosm compared to society?

If you look in the direction of the federation and club leaders, you will find that football is far behind. The diversity of society is not shown there and thus is not discussed. Football should take its social responsibility for non-discriminatory interaction more seriously.

With all the developments so far, where are there still restrictions on gay people?

We still lack the culture of being able to speak up and that anyone in football can express themselves openly on the field or in their work environment, whether it is just through a picture of their boyfriend or girlfriend in an odd relationship. This is also due to the fact that there is a lack of exchange and corresponding networks, but often also simply a lack of understanding.

What are the efforts made by the associations? A lot happens at the business level.

What has worked so well in recent years is the exchange between society and organizations, and this has also led to measures being taken, whether it is participation in CSD or specialized workshops and days. But what is still really missing are the offers, especially in the youth sector, for people who can take this to the clubs. We need more focal points and full-time contact people if possible. This requires more financial resources.

Unlike politics, business, or the arts, there are hardly any gay people in the executive bodies of federal and state associations.

The topic has been a taboo for a long time, and homosexuality and bisexuality are not discussed – or only in a negative context, to the point of prejudice and dangerous claims. Players are still publicly advised not to go out, most recently by Philipp Lahm. There is a lack of openness, there is a lack of vision and there has been a lack of supportive and positive voices for a long time. This has changed recently, especially in the last year and a half: clubs and associations are now positioning themselves even more strongly. Manuel Neuer’s rainbow armband and the discussion on lighting at the Munich Arena were great signs.

The big public issue is always that of professional outings. Why is it so hard for men what is so normal for women?

It was also an evolution of women and it was a long way to get to where we are today. He’s been living there more openly from the start, but public appearances haven’t been around for long, only the last 15 years. Even today, there are more exceptions, and not everyone deals with them openly. In men’s football, the topic has been taboo for so long that there is uncertainty. And that took root, even if the question was always in the public eye and thus in the way of the subject. The pressure is already great on individuals. The topic of social media makes this more difficult, because people are more directly at risk.

Jake Daniels from English second tier club Blackpool recently emerged as the first professional and generated many positive reactions. Could it be a pioneer?

Jake Daniels: The 17-year-old Englishman came in as the first active professional in Europe.

I was expecting the audience’s reaction. I hope there will be no negative feedback in the future either, unfortunately that can change quickly. He is 17 years old and still in the prime of his career. Joshua Cavallo, who was the first professional to come out of Australia, recently reported anti-gay backlash.

Even FIFA has welcomed the move in a media-effective way – but it is hosting the World Cup in a country where Daniels is not allowed to book a hotel room with a partner…

this is unacceptable. Overall: We are very concerned that LGBT fans, players, staff or journalists cannot be protected at this World Cup. All the rants won’t help there, many will boycott the World Cup. In fact, you can only use it to put more pressure on FIFA, including sponsors and the media. Because the World Cup must be monitored critically.

How advanced are professional clubs? Are rainbow corner flags more than a fig leaf?

I think these types of data are very important. This symbolism has not been around for a long time, which also indicates that the clubs are familiar with it. The big clubs in particular can achieve a lot with it, because they also have a direct international impact. It is no coincidence that the Englishman was the first to come out, and the FA and clubs have been there for a longer and more active period, for example celebrating Pride Month.

What is behind the symbolism?

It can’t stay that way. Clubs have to support the community more and make a bigger contribution, especially when you see how much money is in circulation. CSD and other community projects could be further supported. We also need more people to contact, SV Darmstadt 98 is currently the only professional club that has a contact for exotic issues, and that’s very few.

It’s also about supporting your employees.

We always talk about the active players on the field, they are the focus, we watch them in action for 90 minutes. But a club like Bayern Munich, for example, has more than 800 employees, all of whom are much more than eleven on the field. Creating a culture and climate more open to LGBT people and creating queer networks would be an important step.

Fans are far ahead of clubs and associations in terms of anti-discrimination and tolerance, aren’t they?

This was mainly due to the fact that organizations such as the Alliance of Active Football Fans campaigned for the founding of the first gay and lesbian club, Hertha Junxx, and the emergence of the European Network of Queer Football Fan Clubs. Problems in the curve became apparent, disagreements were dealt with openly, and clubs were included in the dialogue. There have been fan groups who have also become active with the help of fan projects and are doing well. For example, the “Football Fans Against Homophobia” campaign is also supported by ultra groups. If these activities did not exist, we would not be where we are today.

How will Proz be received in the stands?

I am very optimistic when I see the reactions in the past few years, because many fans have participated in the campaigns and the last European Championship showed how much support they are. Getting that support was our biggest challenge so far, we’ve come a long way there.

And in the base? How many amateur clubs are away?

This is very different. Amateur football is much closer to the community, for example, there is a clear divide between urban and rural areas when it comes to admission and a lot depends on the locals at the club and volunteer structures. There are very committed clubs out there, and I know a lot of positive stories emerging.

What path has football already taken, how far does football still come?

“The rainbow flag is now on many German stadiums as a symbol of LGBTIQA*.”

About ten years ago, a discussion forum of the German Football Association in Hennef asked whether homosexuality and homophobia are themes in football. We’ve come a long way since then. But we all face a challenge to continue to learn and be more responsive to the needs of others. I feel satisfied when we no longer have to talk about adventures because they are no longer necessary and sexuality no longer plays a role.

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