The theme of this year’s Rainbow Laces campaign is ‘Lace Up and Speak Up’, and as part of it we posed some questions to Norfolk County FA Level 5 Referee and National list Futsal Referee, Tim Sadler. Tim’s main involvement within Norfolk Football is as a referee and he is currently Chairman of Norwich Referees’ Association. He also sits on the Norfolk County FA Inclusion Strategy Advisory Group.
As an openly gay man and involved in grassroots football, what have your experiences been within the sport?
I have found my experience to mostly be good and supportive. Prior to being openly gay in football I was very cautious as I knew no one who was gay and involved in football in any format. The impression was it was not a very welcoming place to be openly myself, especially as a referee and not having a team of teammates to have the support of. I was very worried how people would view me and if even fellow referees would want to officiate with me due to being gay. The only role model I knew of at the time was ex Norwich City player Justin Fashanu. With no modern role model to look up to, I felt very isolated and alone. When I did finally find the courage to come out and openly be myself some of the most supportive people were within football. A good example of this was when I was at College the most supportive people were surprisingly members of the College football team, who I regularly refereed and were very supportive. After this the majority of my experiences have been positive, with many people surprising me with their support.
I tend to wear rainbow laces all year round and this has usually been a great way to break the ice with teams and has been a positive experience all round. I have since been able to go on and be a more successful referee with more belief and confidence in my ability without a weight on my shoulders, which has led me to be able to officiate many great games. I have been lucky enough to officiate in the Cerebral Palsy World Games in 2015, regularly in The FA National Futsal Series The 2017, 2018 FA Futsal Cup Finals, County Cup Finals, and a few League Cup Finals.
How much further has football got to go, as a whole, to become a fully inclusive sport?
I think football has been taking more positive steps in the last few years in being more inclusive and attractive to all. However, it's not just football's job. It is as a society as well! However, there is always room for improvement!
I think there needs to be more education to all on how to be more inclusive and accepting of everyone. I believe there also needs to be tougher sanctions for people who repeatedly offend, discriminate, and abuse people for who they are. In my opinion they need eradicating from the whole of football. The FA have improved in the area, but I think they need to work more closely with the people who it effects. I'm unfortunately aware of other Counties where an individual was called a gay slur "rent boy”, but The FA disagreed that this is a homophobic slur. Until things like this are addressed and properly sanctioned, football has got a way to go yet.
What can you do within the Referee community to help address discrimination on the pitch and promote inclusion?
I think again more education and training is needed. Unfortunately, there are quite a few officials who are not aware of what to do and how to deal with a report of alleged discrimination during games. I believe the Referee Association have made good steps in the right direction over the last few years nationally but more needs to be done at local level.
As Chairman of Norwich Referees Association, I was very keen to be better in being inclusive and supportive to all members. This has included embracing the Rainbow Laces campaign, having Norfolk FA's Football Development Manager (Inclusion), Rachel Cossey, giving us a presentation on inclusion and how to report as well as Di Cunningham giving a presentation on her experience with 3 Lions Pride.
Personally, I try to be unapologetically and openly myself when I go out as a referee and anywhere within football as I believe it's very important to be true to yourself and also being seen for anyone who may not be out within football as there are very few role models. Luckily within refereeing in the last few years we have had two high profile referees in Ryan Atkin and James Adcock come out as gay. This sends out a positive message and it's great to have some role models within the game.
What else would you like done on a local-level to help increase LGBTQ+ inclusion within football?
Norfolk Football I think is generally in a good place. There have been some great initiatives at a local level. Within Norfolk in the last few years, it has been great to see Woodton United become an LGBT inclusive club, also the great work Di Cunningham has done with Proud Canaries. What I would like to see, is more people getting involved with Rainbow Laces. I'd also like to see an Inclusion Officer at every grassroots club, so inclusion is at the forefront of football. Refereeing wise I would like to see all fully educated and trained on how and what to report with discriminatory abuse.