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Coach could face longest ban in WSL history over homophobic slur

The incident occurred during a match between Birmingham City Women and Tottenham Spurs Women.

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Soccer - FAWSL - Manchester City Women v Birmingham City Ladies - City Academy Stadium Photo by Barrington Coombs/Manchester City FC via Getty Images

A Women’s Super League coach is being investigated for allegedly using a homophobic slur during a match.

The league is looking into whether Birmingham City Women support coach Marcus Bignot used an anti-gay slur during a “heated” exchange with the Tottenham bench, according to the Telegraph. Full details of the incident have yet to emerge.

Should these allegations be proven, Bignot faces the dubious distinction of receiving a six to 12- match ban – the longest suspension ever levied in FA WSL history. For a league whose high-profile out LGBTQ players, staff and dedicated fan bases are front and center, the gravity of this punishment might be taken as an important step towards no tolerance for homophobia in sport.

“Punishments relating to any forms of discrimination in English women’s football have been rare,” writes reporter Tom Garry, citing new guidelines for penalizing discriminatory conduct that have come into place following a 2019 incident in which Sheffield United Women’s Sophie Jones was banned for only five games and fined £200 for a racist gesture towards then-Tottenham player Renée Hector.

While reports of homophobia may be rare in the WSL – at least publicly – it’s not unheard of for coaches in women’s soccer to face charges of discriminatory treatment by LGBTQ players. In last year’s damning report by Meg Linehan at The Athletic that brought years of alleged abuse in the NWSL to light, former Portland Thorns players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim detail the ways in which then-coach Paul Riley fixated on their sexual orientation as a focus for his abuse.

As far back as 2019, Stephanie Yang reported for SB Nation that Richie Burke casually used homophobic slurs towards youth players at FC Virginia before going on to coach at the Washington Spirit.

In 2021, he was allowed to leave the team citing “health concerns,” rather than face accountability for mounting accusations of verbal abuse.

Soccer management have shown time and time again that abusive behavior will be tolerated if it means any advantage on the pitch, so fans outraged over these allegations may find cold comfort in the diminishing likelihood of other clubs showing an interest in Marcus Bignot in light of his team’s poor performance this season.

As Dustin George-Miller points out in Cartilage Free Captain, Birmingham appears set for relegation next season, unless they can recover from last place in the league standings.

Bignot’s infraction falls under FA Rule E3 (2) around discriminatory language, and it is still to be determined if any sanctions would preclude him from coaching only at Birmingham or across the league for the duration of the ban.

Birmingham City has not commented on the matter besides a public statement briefly describing the charges against its support coach, and head coach Darren Carter is not accused of any wrongdoing. Bignot himself has until April 4 to respond.