Thursday 29 October 2020, 06:00

FIFA: Everyone should feel safe and welcome in our game

  • Norwegian referee came out in newspaper interview this week

  • FIFA’s social responsibility chief Joyce Cook hails "brave move"

  • Norwegian FA President champions "role model"

Norwegian referee Tom Harald Hagen announced on Monday “the time is right” after publicly coming out as gay in a newspaper interview. Hagen is a former FIFA referee, who officiated at international level, particularly in European competitions and FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers, and is currently active in the Norwegian league.

Speaking to Norwegian newspaper Glåmdalen, Hagen said: “There’s been an incredible number of nice words and messages. I'm a little surprised over how much attention it has received, but it's very nice to read messages especially from young football players, referees, supporters, players and coaches. Also, parents have thanked me on behalf of their children.”

"FIFA commends Hagen on this courageous decision. For an active actor of the game to come out, and the positive reactions that this has generated overall, sends a clear message in favour of diversity. Football has to be for all and Tom Harald’s brave move is important to show the way and make everyone feel safe and welcome in our game,” said FIFA’s Chief Social Responsibility and Education Officer Joyce Cook.

President of the Norwegian Football Association Terje Svendsen was equally positive towards Hagen for his openness. Talking to the Norwegian FA’s website he said: “The fact that there are very few men who are openly gay in football, and that hostile comments are a challenge, shows we still have a job to do in our organisation and culture. It's so good to have role models like Tom Harald. I hope this results in a development where more men come forward as gay and more people choose football.”

FIFA has been taking concrete measures to promote diversity and anti-discrimination in football, in particular discrimination based on sexual orientation. The FIFA Good Practice Guide on Diversity and Anti-Discrimination supports all FIFA member associations to strengthen their activities to ensure a welcoming atmosphere free of discrimination. The structure and all good practice examples in the guide are all applicable to fight homophobia.

In addition, FIFA directly assists member associations to develop action plans with a comprehensive approach looking at regulations, education, sanctions and controls, networking and engagement, as well as communication. Following a number of sanctions based on homophobic incidents, FIFA is currently working on pilot projects with individual member associations to prevent further incidents.

FIFA is also actively raising awareness on this topic, for instance with the annual FIFA Diversity Award launched in 2016. The annual jury systematically includes experts from the football family who have spoken out against homophobia in football themselves (past jury members include: former USA international and FIFA Women's World Cup™ winner Abby Wambach, former German international Thomas Hitzlsperger, and English referee Ryan Atkin) and past nominees and finalists include the International Gay & Lesbian Football Association, Football v Homophobia and the Russian LGBT Sport Federation.

Finally, the FIFA Disciplinary Code was updated in 2019 in line with the highest international standards and makes clear that contemptuous, discriminatory or derogatory words or actions on account of sexual orientation shall be sanctioned.