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Give Homophobia the Red Card: Cleaning Up Women's Soccer by 2015

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Homophobia has no place in women's soccer, at any level, anywhere.

This week's Women's World Cup of Football in Germany is a sporting event of great skill and drama, heroism and resilience. It is exciting to watch. Television coverage of this sport is improving steadily. Growing visibility and positive momentum are powering women's soccer forward.

But, in many parts of the world, anti-lesbian attitudes, talk and actions persist at both the grassroots and professional levels of women's football (as it is known outside North America). And in some countries, such discrimination can spark deadly violence and loss of life.

In 2008, the former captain of the South African women's football team, Eudy Simelane, was gang-raped by four young men and murdered. She was a prominent lesbian and gay-rights activist. A year later, the main perpetrator was convicted and given a life sentence. As his trial ended, he declared: "I'm not sorry at all."

South Africa is still the site of too many vicious and cowardly "corrective rape" cases where men use sexual violence to try to change women's sexual orientation. It is a continuing outrage that these rapists are rarely charged by the authorities.

In other countries, discrimination takes the form of harsh anti-lesbian talk that creates and sustains a climate of intolerance and fear. Only weeks ago, Eucharia Ngozi Uche, manager of Nigeria's Super Falcons, proudly announced a ban on lesbians in her national women's team. She called lesbianism a "dirty issue" and "spiritually, morally, very wrong." It is now, she said, a thing of the past for the Falcons.

The United Kingdom, Australia and other developed countries host lesbian soccer teams, and public discourse there on same-sex relationships is more open and tolerant than in African and Middle Eastern countries in particular. Yet there are still tensions. The Dutch national women's team recently fired a lesbian couple from its ranks because the couple's behavior was alleged to have disrupted the team.

Against this complex backdrop, there is a small global network of organizations dedicated to fighting discrimination against LGBT players in "the beautiful game." The International Gay and Lesbian Football Association, almost 20 years old, is an important one. The association claims 80 teams from more than 20 countries as its members. A more recent group is Red Card Homophobia, an activist website.

Maybe Canada can contribute to this struggle, too. The International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA) has named Canada as the host of the 2015 Women's World Cup. This is an honor, and an opportunity.

And Vancouver --one of the country's, and the world's, most gay-friendly cities -- has submitted a bid to serve as the lead site for the tournament. It stands a very good chance.

If it is successful, Vancouver could serve as the catalyst for a creative and sustained global campaign by FIFA against homophobia and for tolerance in women's soccer.

Eradicating homophobia in women's soccer by 2015 -- that's a target worth aiming at.
Why not use Canada Day 2011 to pledge to make this happen?

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