The Perils of Pauline

The Pauline Conversion

No plan survives contact with the enemy. As I wrote in my last blog about researching The Pauline Conversion, as you dig around in the archives you have to be prepared to unearth something that stops your neat idea in its tracks. If you’re unlucky it sends you reversing back to the start line. If you’re lucky it diverts you onto a shinier, more interesting path. The Pauline Conversion is very much an example of the latter.

The journey to The Pauline Conversion started over a year ago after Russia passed an anti-gay law just months before hosting the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. You might remember the fuss, which resulted ultimately in mass hand-wringing and general inaction. This law angered me, naturally. It was a hugely retrograde step for the country, and the global community fluffed its response.

It set me thinking. Could I write a book satirising this situation in some way? It felt a natural fit for St Paul’s College in an earlier, less equal time than the contemporary Britain of The Pink and the Grey. I’d also been itching to write a story about a younger version of Dennis. One calculation later, I settled on 1972 as a first approximation. In those days the summer and winter games occurred in the same year. Munich, in the summer, suffered from terrorism: not a great backdrop for a St Paul’s story. Sapporo’s winter games were a better fit, mirroring Sochi in 2014.

That took me back to February 1972, when the Sapporo games took place. I noodled with the idea of St Paul’s or the university staging its own games, but nothing grabbed me – and it wouldn’t be Dennis’s thing at all, unless there was a gold medal in tea preparation. In search of inspiration I looked into that time in more detail: what was going on, globally and locally?

A lot of change. A lot of unrest.

Change is constant, of course, and someone’s always up in arms about something. But Cambridge was experiencing a greater turbulence than usual. Miners were on strike across the country, and the energy shortage was about to bring power cuts and disruption. Students took part in a sit-in at a university building, arguing for a greater say in university affairs and changes to exams. Not far from St Paul’s a large rectangle of old Cambridge was being demolished and redeveloped: a multi-storey car park, a modern shopping centre.

All this on the back of the great social changes of the 1960s. For gay men the decade brought, eventually, decriminalisation – though there’s a difference between legal and socially acceptable. Even five years after decriminalisation, attitudes towards LGBT people (not that this term was in use) had barely shifted from much darker, more violent times, even in a semi-enlightened Cambridge that would have tolerated St Paul’s for a couple of centuries. And discrimination was rife not just against gay people. Women were poorly treated (they still are, of course), and beginning to fight back: stereotypically, burning bras in the cause of women’s liberation.

In Dennis I saw a man who would be uneasy and suspicious of too much change too rapidly. But he would also be a moderniser, understanding the worst way to manage change is to build a dam and hide beneath it. He would also be a man of multifarious routines, as we all are, with that nagging middle-aged sense of a life slipping away unfulfilled.

Change, then: a rich seam to mine, at many levels. Environmental, social, personal, with Dennis at the core pushing and coping and not coping and blundering.

An idea bloomed and I started to write, but the story lacked fizz. I persevered for a while hoping a light bulb would blaze above my head, but I felt I was writing words to throw away. Changing tack, instead I hugged cups of tea and stared through plate glass at winter crowds, letting my mind wander, waiting for something, something…

Inspiration hit me, eventually, in the shower. (Without tea, plate glass, or winter crowds.) It was the character of Red. Red, I knew, would set the sparks flying.

A complete scene-by-scene outline followed at its own dozy pace, and then when I could procrastinate no more, with research in hand, I started on my second first draft: ninety-four glorious, frustrating days of writing. And after several further months and a few more drafts, with feedback from trusted compadres and the attention of my bluest editing pencil, I decided it was ready. (You can edit a manuscript forever. It’s never finished, it’s just time to stop fiddling and let go.)

There are things I’d like to have covered in the book. I barely touched on racial discrimination. A bolder author would have included a black character and the terrible racism common at the time. But that might have appeared tick-box tokenism and diluted other aspects of the story. You can’t do everything. You’re painting a picture not taking a photograph, and readers aren’t daft.

So it’s done, and it’s out, and I think the paperback looks tremendous. The plan now is to promote the book, and in particular attract reviewers – from “normal” readers and from pro or semi-pro reviewers. On Amazon, reviews are king. Reviews drive sales, and sales drive reviews. That’s the plan, anyway. And as we know, no plan survives contact with the enemy…

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The poor, powerless IOC

“But one should not forget that we are staging the games in a sovereign state and the IOC cannot be expected to have an influence on the sovereign affairs of a country,” says departing IOC president Jacques Rogge.

No indeed. The IOC’s hands are tied. They can do nothing, nothing, to stop countries — to which they, at their sole discretion, award the biggest sporting event on the planet — from battering their citizens. Sovereign governments are entirely beyond the IOC’s influence.

Olympic Symbol etc. (Protection) Act 1995

1(1) There shall be a right, to be known as the Olympics association right. …

2(1) The Olympics association right shall confer exclusive rights in relation to the use of the Olympic symbol, the Olympic motto and the protected words. …

The poor, powerless IOC.

London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006

11 Olympic Route Network …

14 Traffic regulation orders …

19 Advertising regulations …

22 Enforcement: power of entry

(1) A constable or enforcement officer may—

(a) enter land or premises on which they reasonably believe a contravention of regulations under section 19 is occurring (whether by reason of advertising on that land or premises or by the use of that land or premises to cause an advertisement to appear elsewhere);

(b) remove, destroy, conceal or erase any infringing article;

(c) when entering land under paragraph (a), be accompanied by one or more persons for the purpose of taking action under paragraph (b);

(d) use, or authorise the use of, reasonable force for the purpose of taking action under this subsection. …

25 Street trading, &c. …

28 Enforcement: power of entry

(1) A constable or enforcement officer may—

(a) enter land or premises on which they reasonably believe a contravention of regulations under section 25 is occurring;

(b) remove any infringing article;

(c) when entering land under paragraph (a), be accompanied by one or more persons for the purpose of taking action under paragraph (b);

(d) use, or authorise the use of, reasonable force for the purpose of taking action under this subsection. …

34 Greater London Authority: powers

(1) The Greater London Authority may do anything—

(a) for the purpose of complying with an obligation of the Mayor of London under the Host City Contract (whether before, during or after the London Olympics),

(b) for a purpose connected with preparing for or managing the London Olympics, or

(c) for a purpose connected with anything done in accordance with paragraph (a) or (b).

The poor, powerless IOC.

The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (Advertising and Trading) (England) Regulations 2011 (and similar regulations for Wales and Scotland)

Control of advertising activity

6.—(1) A person must not engage in advertising activity in an event zone during the relevant event period or periods. …

The poor, powerless IOC.

The Air Navigation (Restriction of Flying) (London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, London Restricted Zone EGR112) Regulations 2012 (and 14 similar regulations for other Olympic venues)

The Wireless Telegraphy (Control of Interference from Apparatus) (The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games) Regulations 2012

The A19 Trunk Road and the A66 Trunk Road (Olympic Torch Relay) (Temporary Prohibition of Traffic) Order 2012

Etc, etc. There are 51 acts and statutory instruments on legislation.gov.uk with “Olympic” in the title.

The poor, powerless IOC.

What would Putin do?

It’s a big few years for sport in Russia. In a couple of weeks Moscow hosts the World Athletics Championships. Next January the Winter Olympics bandwagon stops in Sochi. And in 2018 FIFA’s World Cup peppers the country with 32 national teams playing the world’s most popular sport.

Meanwhile, let’s look at some of the laws Russia has recently passed.

July 3: Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a law that means if you — gay or straight, single or married or civilly partnered — live in a country with any form of marriage equality, you will not be allowed to adopt a Russian-born child.

June 20: Putin signed a law allowing the Russian government to arrest, hold and then expel any foreign tourist who is gay or “pro-gay”. You could reasonably expect “pro-gay” activities to include showing the rainbow flag, or arguing for equality — very much considered acts of free speech in modern western democracies.

Earlier in June: Putin classified “homosexual propaganda” as pornography. A teacher in Russia must not state that homosexuality is OK and normal, for example. Worse than that: neither can a judge. Spouting such “propaganda” can lead to arrest and a fine.

Buzzfeed’s 36 Photos From Russia That Everyone Needs To See shows you in graphic detail what’s happening in that country as a result.

The heads of the IAAF, the IOC and FIFA should be worried. How does Russia’s behaviour match all the fine words on equality and anti-discrimination coming from these organisations? It doesn’t, plainly. And what are they going to do about it? Nothing, of course.

I’ve written before and at length about homophobia in football: FIFA blusters much and achieves zip; I don’t want to re-re-rehash that again here. In a statement the IOC claims the new laws won’t affect the Winter Olympics, saying “athletes of all orientations will be welcome at the Games.” There’s a petition calling for a stupid boycott: don’t sign it.

The IAAF, meanwhile, has been silent.

You won’t find any mention on the IAAF’s website of Russia’s new crackdown. The only gay is Tyson Gay. Google finds no mention on the site of the word “homosexual”, and only one instance of “sexuality”, used in an article from 2000 about an athlete who appeared naked in an advert.

Searching for Sexuality on iaaf.org

Now, I happen to have a copy of the IAAF Constitution to hand, along with its official Code of Ethics (these are all available on the IAAF website). In Article 3 of the IAAF Constitution, about the objectives of the IAAF, clauses 3.3 and 3.4 say:

3.3. To encourage participation in Athletics at all levels throughout the world regardless of age, gender or race.

3.4. To strive to ensure that no gender, race, religious, political or other kind of unfair discrimination exists, continues to exist, or is allowed to develop in Athletics in any form, and that all may participate in Athletics regardless of their gender, race, religious or political views or any other irrelevant factor.

Here’s the Code of Ethics, part A.1 (this applies to all IAAF officials):

A.1. No discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, political opinion or other such ground will be tolerated in Athletics, including in the IAAF Council, Committees, Commissions and other elected or appointed organs of the IAAF.

And here’s the IAAF Constitution again, under “Rights and obligations of members”, Article 4, clause 8(a):

4.8. Members shall have the following obligations of Membership:

4.8.(a) to respect and further the Objects set out in Article 3;

It strikes me that Russia is, by enacting these new laws, very much in breach of clause 4.8(a) of the IAAF Constitution. I’d also say that any IAAF official who through action or inaction allows discrimination on the basis of sexuality to take place in or around the World Athletics Championships is in violation of the IAAF Code of Ethics.

I tweeted @iaaforg earlier today:

Any response? Nope.

Of course, other countries in the IAAF already discriminate against LGBT people, and the get-out qualifiers “unfair” and “irrelevant” in clause 3.4 are no doubt the ones those countries underline in green ink as justification. But it is rare for a country to reintroduce discrimination it has already shed: and, in any case, the code of ethics to which all IAAF officials must abide has no such qualifier.

I’d like to see two things happen.

Firstly, and most importantly, I want to see LGBT athletes demonstrate publicly, confidently and repeatedly that they are not afraid to be out in elite sport, on and off the field. Visibility, visibility, visibility. It’s visibility that has brought equal marriage rights in England and Wales, and it’s visibility that will change sport — that is changing sport.

Secondly, I want to see straight athletes show their support for LGBT people — and do so on camera, in the stadium. Overtly or covertly, I don’t mind. Painted nails, rainbow pins, messages in interviews, signs to camera when lined up for their events, carrying rainbow flags on laps of honour, anything.

What would the IAAF officials do?

What would Putin do?

Coming soon: Disunited

footballerA couple of years ago I wrote a short story — very short, only about 1500 words — set in the dusty office of the manager of a football club. A young, talented member of his team came to him with a confession: he was gay. More than that, he wanted to come out publicly. The story played out as an exchange between the two, with a not particularly twisty twist at the end.

It was inspired by the then-recent decision of FIFA, football’s world governing body, to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. For an organisation allegedly committed to stamping out discrimination in the game, the decision was and remains incomprehensible: homosexuality is barely tolerated in much of Russia, and is illegal in Qatar. It’s as if FIFA had awarded the World Cup of 1978 to South Africa, at the height of apartheid.

The player in my short story looked ahead to 2022, when he might be out, happily married, with kids — and playing for England. Would the FA not allow him to be selected, to avoid offending the hosts? Would Qatar turn him away at the airport, along with any other players that might be out by then? Of course not.

The authorities in Qatar could surely do nothing but let him and the others play, or risk the condemnation of the international community. They would have to let in his partner, if he had one. Any other action would be intolerable, and worthy of a boycott.

I’m sure that by 2022 this won’t be a hypothetical scenario. I’m convinced that there’ll be out gay male players in the top football leagues around the world, and it’s more likely than not that at least one of the 32 national teams in Qatar will field an out gay player.

But currently there are none at the highest levels of the game, nationally or internationally: the only out gay man currently playing is Anton Hysén, in the third division of the Swedish league. In Britain, the only out gay player so far has been Justin Fashanu, twenty years ago, in a different world.

I don’t believe this will remain the case for long. I think that within a year — possibly this summer, between seasons — someone playing in the English or Scottish Premier League will come out. I don’t know who, I don’t know where — I have no inside information — it just feels as if it will happen. A momentum seems to be building, almost as if a growing number of people are being let into a secret and then voicing their support without naming names. Eventually there’ll be a critical mass, a tipping point, and the unnamed player or players will come out. Perhaps: I don’t know.

But this gut feeling is why I’m in a hurry to publish my next book.

Called Disunited, it’s set at a football club I don’t name, in a city I don’t name, in the present day. It’s about a newly signed rising star of the game called Danny Prince who becomes — reluctantly — the first British player to come out since Fashanu. It’s my usual mix of humour and seriousness, and — in case you might be put off — it’s not a football book, full of arcane gags about the offside rule. The first top footballer who comes out in the UK today will face many struggles on and off the pitch — dealing with his teammates, his manager, and not least his supporters — but the story’s about universal human worries: loyalty, honesty, risks, relationships, and remaining true to yourself.

The book will be out in early February, which happily coincides with the Football v Homophobia month of action and LGBT history month. I’ll publish a sneak preview here when it’s available.

Or maybe a real-life player will beat me to it…