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Rainbow laces – are they enough?

Rainbow laces – are they enough?


The rainbow laces campaign is a fixture in the Premier League calendar. But how far can it go to change the game for LGBTQ+ fans and players?


Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker. 

One story every day to make sense of the world of football. 

Today… Lace Up and Speak Up.


Over the last two weekends, the Premier League has taken part in the annual Rainbow Laces campaign. 

It’s aimed at raising awareness of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Players wear rainbow coloured laces…and captains wear rainbow armbands.  Even the substitute boards and the Premier League branding gets the rainbow treatment. 

It’s run in conjunction with the LGBTQ+ organisation, Stonewall. 

Its aim?

To “make sport everybody’s game.”

“Sport is a huge part of my life. I love it. The atmosphere, the excitement, the tension and the pain. Does it matter that I’m gay? Lesbian? Bi? Trans? No matter who you are, we should all be free to enjoy the things that we love. As fans, as players. But not everyone can enjoy the things that we love. But not everyone can.”


Liz Ward is the director of programmes at Stonewall. 

She has been named on the Football Black List this year. Liz says she “lives and breathes football.”

As a senior leader, Liz describes herself as young, working class and Black Mixed Race. 

And she’s proud to be shaking up the status quo… just by her very existence!

Liz is the person who sits down with big clubs to try to make football a more inclusive game.

So why is her work needed?

According to research by Stonewall, one in five sports fans thinks anti-LGBTQ+ language is harmless if it’s just… banter. 

But almost half of fans who are LGBTQ+ think they’re not welcome at sports events. 

And when you consider the homophobic chants you hear on the terraces, you can see their point. 

After an incident during a Liverpool match, Jurgen Klopp sat down with the founder of Kop Outs, one of a growing number of LGBTQ+ supporters groups. 

“And that was the rent boys chant which was sung at the Norwich game, which is so unnecessary. And what people don’t necessarily realise is that it’s chanted at the player, but actually the people who hear it are fellow fans like myself who go from hearing ‘you’ll never walk alone’ and being embraced in fanhood and that fantastic atmosphere to suddenly being left in the cold.” 

Liverpool FC

And just last week, the Leeds LGBTQ+ fan group, “Marching Out Together”, had to issue a statement because…on the very day that the players wore rainbow laces… chants of “rent boy” were heard during the match with Crystal Palace.

But what of the footballers themselves?  

In the women’s game, there are many openly gay footballers. Wolfsburg’s goalkeeper Almuth Schult says it’s “totally normal” in women’s football. 

But in men’s football, it’s the opposite.

Can the women teach them something?  

Wolves defender Conor Coady thinks so. Here he is speaking to his female counterpart, Ali Miller.

“No-one was like ‘what are you – are you straight or are you not?’  It was very relaxed and I never really felt like I had to do this big kind of coming out story.”

“See, honestly, I believe, I honestly believe from what you’ve told me there… I think within time… men’s football can get like that. That’s how it should be, for me.”


Are we really to believe that every single male footballer is heterosexual?

“In the whole of the professional game history for men? There’s something not right there in terms of the environment. I’ve got too many LGBT+ friends who have expressed discomfort at being at the match or don’t want to go to the match because they are scared that they might be left feeling uncomfortable.”

Liverpool FC

The Rainbow Laces campaign has done what it was supposed to. It has raised awareness of the LGBTQ+ community in football. Players and managers are responding. 

But is it enough to solve the problems?

Liz Ward at Stonewall thinks more needs to be done. 

She says the rainbow laces campaign is evolving.

They are calling it “lace up and speak up.”

And the hope is, that by starting conversations, the issue can be pushed to the forefront.

“I’m a Manchester United fan and I identify as a lesbian.”

“I’m a Liverpool fan and I identify as queer.”

“I’m an Aston Villa fan, and I’m a gay man.”

“A fan is a fan, no matter what.”

Barclays UK

It certainly seems like there are a lot of deep-rooted issues in men’s football.

Stonewall’s work with the rainbow laces campaign has made an impact. 

But the homophobic chanting continues, and it is difficult to imagine that this kind of behavior can be eradicated with laces alone.

So isn’t it time for the campaign to step up a gear?  People are impatient for change. 

Today’s episode was written by me, Chloe Beresford, and produced by Studio Klong.