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The opinion of professional footballers in the Netherlands is that it is very difficult to be openly gay within Dutch football. It is one of the main conclusions of a survey commissioned by Dutch players association (VVCS) and the John Blankenstein Foundation (JBF).

The VVCS and the JBF decided to turn to the players after homophobia in Dutch football had become a focal point of discussions, starting 2013, with former players, coaches and football pundits talking about the subject, but without the main actors speaking about this "last taboo". The survey 'Football and gay-acceptance' presents the views of current players.

More than 425 professional footballers in the Dutch premier and second league responded to the survey. "That is an overwhelming response, especially when you consider that we distributed no more than about 600 surveys, and taking into account the delicate subject", says VVCS President Danny Hesp. 60 % of the respondents are players younger than 24 years, 18 % of them didn't have Dutch citizenship, 35 % considered themselves as being religious.

The survey shows – among others - the following results:

  • 80 percent of the players think that it is very difficult to come out of the closet and be openly gay in the Dutch professional football league;
  • 4.4 (on a scale from one to ten) is the average score for level of tolerance towards gay men in Dutch football;
  • 68 % of the players consider the climate to be inhospitable;
  • 70 % of the players would find it OK if a teammate came out of the closet;
  • 17 % of the players think that the religious background of some players is also a reason for homophobia still existing in Dutch professional football;
  • 32 % of the players believe that the national media complicate a coming-out.

The survey refutes the claim that there aren't any gay football players in the Dutch league. A significant proportion of the survey participants (4 %) said that they know a colleague who is gay or bisexual.

VVCS President Hesp, a former player himself, is surprised by the results of the survey. "When I have dressing-room conversations with teams, which I have very frequently - I don't really notice the macho culture. We always have serious discussions, with everybody involved behaving accordingly".

"The outcome of the survey shows differently, since the participants indicate that the macho culture is one of the biggest problems in the fight for acceptance of homosexuality in Dutch professional football. I always assumed that the pressure from fans, general public and media attention would be the most dominant factors".

"Nevertheless, 70 % of the players say that they don't have a problem with any gay teammate, therefore my suspicion is that indeed the atmosphere around the football fields is one of the biggest problems. The football players would like to change that and I think it would be a good signal if the clubs participated in this changing process".

According to the players it is possible to change the environment. The first step towards a better environment is to change fans' behaviour as well as the macho culture. The players also consider the national media play an important role in this issue.

The results of this research are not prompting the VVCS to launch a special campaign for more acceptance of gays in football. "We have already been discussing this subject in the dressing rooms since 2012 and we will continue doing that", Hesp explains. "I am not aiming to present the first active player coming out of the closet. It is my goal to ensure that each football player feels comfortable both on and off the pitch".

"Professional football is a special world", Hesp says. "First of all you are being judged by your sporting performance. In conversations with players I try to say to them that there are always reasons to be hissed at and to be called names. I think that gays are accepted, but that being homosexual can play a role during the match in the stadium. If you do not perform well, 'they' will immediately attack your 'weak' sides, your homosexual nature, your flap-ears or your sick mother. Fans of the opposing team will unerringly know how to use this in the hope of weakening your team. You have to learn to deal with that. I want to explain clearly to them that the threshold to be open about your homosexual nature is not on the pitch, but in your head".

"Players shouldn't have to run into problems because of their homosexual nature. Just be open about who you are. In my family and circle of friends contact and companionship with gays and lesbians is a matter of course. Why should that not apply to football as well?"