Amsterdam, 09-11-16


Amsterdam, 10-11 -16 – The national football leagues of Belgium, England, France, Hungary, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Scotland, Spain and Turkey, and the UEFA and FARE, were present yesterday evening in de Amsterdam ArenA for the signing of the European Diversity Statement. An initiative of Heroes of Football, this declaration of intent unites these countries to work towards European collaboration in achieving the full acceptance of homosexuality in football. A further eight other European Football associations have announced their support for the project.

The Royal Dutch Football League (KNVB) hosted this special event on Wednesday evening at the Amsterdam ArenA. Chair Michael van Praag told of his intrinsic motivation to bring about equality in football: “Eight years ago I became Chair of the KNVB, and was shocked by the personal stories I heard. Particularly in men’s football, homosexuality was, and still is, a great taboo. But maybe even worse, not everyone dares to totally be himself in junior football too. That 50% of homosexual youth have sometimes thought of suicide affects me deeply. As football leagues, we must not accept this and we must tackle this together!”

Frans Timmermans, first Vice President of the European Union, was also present at the signing: “Coming out of the closet is a personal choice, but it is intolerable that some don’t dare, solely because of the football culture!” Right now we need ‘Heroes’ who dare to stand up for whom they are. We must use the incredible power of football to respect every form of sexuality. And there is haste because football lags behind the rest of the world. Football has me as an ally to take on this problem; it is our collective duty!”

Karin Blankenstein, Chair of the John Blankenstein Foundation and one of the initiators of Heroes of Football: “More and more footballers leave the sport because of their sexuality. This is why we have set up Heroes of Football. To make football a place where everyone feels at home, where everyone can be proud to be, and where you are always part of the team. It’s time to make diversity and inclusiveness your personal project!”

A congress was held on this subject just before the football leagues signed the declaration of intent. The Spanish referee, Jesus Tomillero, was also present: “I stopped refereeing because I was receiving death threats every day, but I will not give up. The Spanish football league actually has no place for me: how is that still possible in this century?” Michael van Praag responded immediately: “On 12 December, I have a meeting with my Spanish associate. I’m going to urge him to do something about this!”

Heroes of Football is a European initiative to ensure that everybody who loves football or takes part in the game enjoys with unhindered pleasure, and can completely be themselves no matter what their sexual preferences are. In football, being open about your sexual preference is not yet generally accepted, as the attached team photo testifies. Homosexual participants in the sport are shown as silhouettes, two of whom made themselves known today. This is to flag up the issue and to encourage sports associations to take on responsibility for promoting gay acceptance in sport. Jesus Tomillero is the first member of the Heroes of Football team. Amateur footballer Danilo Verboom was presented as the second member of the team. “I can’t change whom I am, and I won’t change whom I am, because no one should want to do that. We need everyone and every football league to normalize the subject of homosexuality in sport. Watch the campaign video featuring Ruud van Nistelrooy HERE and feel free to share this video with your audience.

For press questions/interview requests:
Jan Driessen
Mobile: +31611331500

Heroes of Football is an initiative of Marieke Slinkert, Sipke Jan Bousema and the John Blankenstein Foundation in collaboration with KBVB (BEL), PrideSports (ENG), Universität Vechta (DUI), B Yourself (FRA), UISP (ITA) and EGLSF (EUR), funded by PwC.

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