An American professional soccer team walked off the field in protest after one of their teammates – an openly gay player – was allegedly called a homophobic slur by a rival team’s player. San Diego Loyal decided to forfeit their match against Phoenix Rising, despite leading 3-1 in a crucial game on Wednesday.

According to SD Loyal, their player Collin Martin who is openly gay, was called a Jamaican homophobic term for a gay man, by Rising player Junior Flemmings. Flemmings has denied the allegation.

“In the first half a member of Phoenix Rising used a homophobic slur directed at Collin Martin. In response we have decided to walk off the pitch in protest,” the team posted on social media.

Last week, San Diego had forfeited its match against LA Galaxy II – which had ended in a 1-1 draw, after one of its players Elijah Martin was racially abused with the n-word.

On social media, many lauded SD Loyal for showing that racist and homophobic behaviour had no place in sports and could not come at the cost of wins.

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 US soccer legend Landon Donovan, the Manager of SD Loyal, said the team would not stand for bigotry.

“We went through a really hard incident last week in the LA match and we made a vow to ourselves, to our community, to our players, to the club, to USL, that we would not stand for bigotry, homophobic slurs, things that don’t belong in our game.”

Donovan said that he and his team regretted not acting when Elijah had been called the racial slur at the previous game.

“At the end of the first half Collin came over to the fourth official after somehow he got red carded and told the fourth official that he had been abused by a homophobic slur by one of their players and when I heard that I lost it because I know what this team has been through.”

According to the team, the incident occured prior to half time. Collin was sent off after being issued a red card, for responding to the slur that he was called by Flemmings. The red card was subsequently rescinded. Donovan asked Rising manager Rick Schantz to pull Flemmings from the game, which he refused to do.

In a video, Schantz is heard telling Donovan, “Come on, man. Don’t make a big scene… They’re competing… How long have you been playing soccer?” Donovan is emphatic, “We have to get this out of our game.”

The USL Championship issued a statement that they were investigating the allegations.

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 “We are aware of the alleged use of a homophobic slur in tonight’s match between San Diego Loyal SC and Phoenix Rising FC. Foul and abusive language of any type has absolutely no place in our society and will not be tolerated in USL matches. An investigation is currently underway to determine the facts surrounding the incident and more information will be provided as soon as it is available.”

Flemings posted a statement denying that he had used a homophobic slur against Collin and calling the accusations false.

“This accusation is false and my fellow teammates will support my claim… At no point did I say a homophobic slur towards Collin Martin. I do not know Collin personally, but I respect all of my opponents equally, Collin included,” said Flemmings. “I stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ movement.”

Collin subsequently put out a statement and disputed Flemming’s version of the incident.

“In last night’s game against Phoenix Rising, an exchange between Junior Flemmings and myself escalated to the point of him calling me a ‘Bati Boy’’ which is a homophobic slur that can be translated to ‘faggot’. This is not the first time I’ve heard this homophobic slur, however it’s the first time in my eight year playing career that a slur has been directed at me during a game… The collective decision to walk off in solidarity and forfeit the match speaks volumes of their support of me and what this organisation is standing up to. Ultimately, I hope this can be another example that we have a long way to go in educating ourselves and kicking hate out of our game.”

Research has shown that homophobia in sports has been widespread. A 2015 study Out On The Fields with participants from US, UK, Australia, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand, had found that America had the highest percentage of gay men who had been threatened or had heard a slur on the field. A recent study by Kick It Out in the United Kingdom, found a 53% increase in racial abuse and 95% rise in homophobic abuses in professional football.

Earlier this year, a new study by the Faculty of Education, Monash University and VicHealth revealed that nearly half of the players, coaches and staff in sports clubs in Australia  believed to varying degrees that homosexuality is wrong or unnatural.

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