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Is ‘rent boy’ a gay slur? English soccer says no

The ruling contradicts FIFA and virtually every other governing body.

Arsenal v Burnley - Premier League
The Football Association’s handling of a recent anti-gay incident doesn’t do much to spread the values of inclusion.
Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

English soccer’s governing body says a widely used anti-gay insult isn’t about sexual orientation, and as a result, is not an example of “aggravated language.”

You could’ve fooled us.

Following an on-field incident, the Football Association recently assessed the phrase “rent boy” doesn’t meet the criteria it uses to determine homophobic language, according to Jon Holmes of Sky Sports.

The ruling was issued in response to an insult that was uttered during an October match between AFC Shipham and Portishead Town FC. The clubs are part of the Weston and District Football League, which is a feeder division.

About 80 minutes in the match, Shipham’s captain led his team off the field after a Portishead player called one of his teammates a “fucking rent boy,” Sky Sports reports. The odious insult remains a prevalent fan chant in soccer, even being repeated in the middle of the Premier League’s Rainbow Laces campaign.

“Rent boy” is a vulgar slur for a male prostitute that translates to “puto” in Spanish. FIFA has punished Mexico at least 12 times for the chant since 2015. The organization is finally threatening to issue serious sanctions against Mexico after the homophobic rallying cry was audible during multiple matches at the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament.

At the time of the episode, AFC Shipham issued a Twitter statement explaining its protest. “Proud of the team today for walking off,” it read. “Clear homophobic abuse from a @PortisheadTown player.”

Portishead offered to assist in the investigation, and stressed its values as an inclusive club.

Initially, the offense was viewed as a potential “aggravated breach” of conduct, which the FA categorizes as a reference to any or more of the following: ethnic origin, color, race, nationality, religion or belief, gender, gender assignment, sexual orientation or disability.

Calling somebody a male prostitute would qualify as a reference to someone’s sexual orientation, don’t you think? The FA of Wales lists “rent boy” as an “unacceptable phrase” in its Challenging Discrimination in Football guide, alongside “faggot” and “poof.”

But yet, the “aggravated breach” charge wasn’t pursued. The Portishead player was merely fined, and the AFC Shipham captain who led the walk-off was charged with “causing an abandonment.”

Several LGBTQ organizations told Sky Sports they were outraged by the ruling.

“We have been flying the flag for LGBT+ rights in football for over 30 years and we stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone that stands up to homophobic abuse aimed at any player within the game,” said GFSN, a group fighting for inclusion in soccer. “It saddens, but does not surprise us, that homophobic slurs and terms are continued to be used against players within football.”

Callum Hodge, an openly gay player with Chew Magna FC of the Somerset County League Division 2, said he would be “fuming” if he were called a “rent boy” on the pitch.

Despite well-intentioned inclusion campaigns, such as Rainbow Laces, anti-gay slurs are still uttered on far too many playing fields. For its part, the FA told Sky Sports it’s “committed to tackling homophobia, biphobia and transphobia at every level of the game.”

But apparently that does not include calling an anti-gay insult exactly what it is.