Skip to main content

LGBTQ+ Inclusion in Sport

Volume 703: debated on Thursday 18 November 2021

I completely agree with the hon. Lady that sport is for everyone and inclusion is vital. We continue to see some progress in this area—for example, I pay tribute to Josh Cavallo for his leadership in becoming the first top-league male footballer to come out as gay while still playing professionally. I hope that we see others follow his lead.

At the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, we work closely with Sport England and UK Sport to ensure that people from all backgrounds feel included in sport. As part of that work, the updated code for sports governance will soon require sports governing bodies to agree a diversity and inclusion action plan. That will further support LGBT+ inclusion in sport throughout the country.

I very much share the Minister’s sentiments regarding Josh Cavallo, who has bravely come out, but he is still the only male gay footballer in the professional game in the world. Given the fact that we still do not have any other openly gay male footballers, what message does the Minister think it sends that Qatar—a country that strictly represses homosexual people, with homosexual acts punishable by a decade in prison for non-locals and death for local Muslims—is set to hold the next World cup? Does he agree that nations that treat LGBTQ people in such an abhorrent way should not be gifted international competitions like the World cup?

The hon. Lady will be aware that we have frank conversations at international level with our counterparts around the world on issues such as human rights and, indeed, gay rights, and we will continue to have those conversations. I would also like to focus on the power of sport to highlight inclusion and diversity and to bring us together. I will focus on the positive things that sport can do over the major sporting events in the coming year, as will, I am sure, the whole House.

Inclusivity applies not just to the LGBTQ+ community, as the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) rightly highlighted, but to people of south Asian and, in fact, all minority heritage. With that in mind, does my hon. Friend share my consternation that the former chair of Yorkshire county cricket club had not even read the seminal Fletcher report on the lack of inclusivity at the county? Does he agree that the response to Mr Rafiq’s brave testimony given in this House must be not only to clear out the Augean stables at Yorkshire but to ensure that the institutionally racist blocking of minority-community talent is stopped forever? We need a Kick It Out for cricket, right now.

My hon. Friend makes some very important points. I applaud his Select Committee’s work this week in giving Azeem Rafiq a platform to make the comments that he made. It was difficult to hear because it was harrowing testimony. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the Fletcher report, which is pretty old, was clearly not acted on and should have been. I assure him that we have had frank conversations over the past couple of weeks with the England and Wales Cricket Board and others involved in cricket. I have had reassurance that the ECB takes the issue seriously and will act, and Tom Harrison has promised me that, with every fibre of his being, he will take action. But he and I know that we will judge the ECB on its deeds, not its words, and if it fails to act appropriately, we will not hesitate to intervene further.

I am sure the Secretary of State will join the Minister in congratulating Josh Cavallo, the only top-tier footballer in the world currently playing to have come out publicly as gay. He will be an inspiration for LGBT kids everywhere who love football. Does she agree that it is a damning indictment of football in this country that no professional player in the game who is currently playing has felt safe enough to come out publicly? Will she join me in calling on football bodies on these islands to look urgently at why that is and to do all they can to create an environment in which players feel safe to come out and be the role models we all need?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman; we investigated these very issues when we worked together on the Select Committee. It is a sad indictment of football that there has been an environment in which so many people do not feel they can express who they are—that is a terrible situation to be in. I agree that we all need to work together across all sports, not just football, to ensure that people feel comfortable in who they are.