Rainbow Laces Day - Tameka Yallop on football becoming more inclusive
As football celebrates Rainbow Laces Day, Tameka Yallop says the sport – and society – is becoming ever more inclusive...
As a former Brisbane Roar, Ottawa Fury and Boston Breakers player, the Hammers’ summer recruit Tameka Yallop is certainly used to clubs having impressive suffixes.
One could argue, however, that her new club has the most important and powerful suffix of all: United.
A strive for unity has become the centre of football’s wider politics in recent seasons, particularly in relation to racism and sexuality.
Rainbow Laces, Stonewall’s charity campaign to endorse inclusivity in sport, is set to return on 8 December in full force, as sportspeople wear multi-coloured laces to raise awareness and start conversations about acceptance.
In 2019, Yallop married her wife Kirsty, a former New Zealand international, after the pair played together in Norway for Klepp Idrettslag.
Following over a decade in the sport, Yallop feels the world of football is a far better place nowadays, even if the journey is not yet complete.
Seeing major clubs and communities support this creates an environment where people feel like they can be themselves
The Matildas star said: “[Football] feels more inclusive now, not just knowing there are others in a similar type of relationship.
“I think it’s more inclusive in the fact that, regardless of whether you are gay or straight, people are acknowledging it publicly more.
“A lot of the support has come from heterosexuals being like ‘yeah that’s cool’ and normalising it rather than outcasting it.
“There has been a massive change in that direction, and it’s been really positive to see.”
Since joining West Ham in May, Yallop has been away from Kirsty and one-year-old daughter Harley for six months.
Although it’s hard to be apart from her family, the Australia international is delighted to see that Harley has already developed an obsession for football, much like her mother in her youth.
Football has always been an integral part of Yallop’s life; she began playing when she was only five years old at the same football club as her older brother.
And it continued to hold great importance during her life as a young adult, as Yallop would use football to distract her from the pressures of coming out about her sexuality.
However, after revealing her full identity publicly and sharing her family life on social media, Yallop feels the world is more accepting of LGBTQ+ people nowadays.
She explained: “I didn’t really come out to my family until I met Kirsty, so I spent a long time hiding that side and football really was the main escape for me.
“These days, I do feel it’s easier to be yourself and not have to worry about that.
“It’s nice to be able to be yourself and not have to hide anything or change what you post.”
Whilst positive improvements have been made to enhance inclusivity, statistics demonstrate there is still some way to go before everyone is accepted.
According to research conducted by ICM in 2020, 20% of sport fans think anti-LGBTQ+ language is harmless if it is ‘just meant as banter’.
Rewind three years to 2017, and a survey carried out by YouGov on Stonewall’s behalf stated that 43% of LGBTQ+ people felt public sporting events were not a welcoming space for them.
Yallop shared: “I’m quite lucky to have been in a supportive environment. I can certainly see how hard it must be for people who don’t have that sort of community to help them feel safe and supported.”
She reinforced how vital it is for large institutions, such as West Ham United, to back the annual Rainbow Laces campaign.
“Seeing major clubs and communities support this creates an environment where people feel like they can be themselves,” Yallop explained. “It is a great example of why it’s becoming a norm in society and not outcasted.”
One day, Yallop hopes that talking openly about sexuality and accepting LGBTQ+ people will be as easy as simple, everyday tasks.
She said: “It doesn’t need to be a massive thing – it just needs to be something that makes people feel welcome and that they are supported no matter what.
“It should be as normal as waking up in the morning and making a cup of coffee – it should be that easy to talk about.”
Article written by Ben Willcocks