EE Hope United Launches GayVAR campaign to combat online homophobic abuse

  • February 28, 2023

EE has today reassembled its Hope United squad for a third time to launch GayVAR, an integrated campaign that will highlight and tackle the issue of online homophobia within football.

EE Hope United will be monitoring social media across three Premier League game weeks, with GayVAR content posted in response to specific moments that have been found to generate spikes in online homophobic abuse, such as bad individual player performances, bad goalkeeping, dives and losses.

Fronted by former England international Joe Cole and comedian Tom Allen, GayVAR will call out online homophobic hate, demonstrating its wide-ranging negative impact, while refuting claims that it is merely ‘banter’.

Inspired by pitch-side VAR (Video Assistant Referee), the content will look to highlight the nonsensical nature of homophobic abuse, encouraging fans to take a stand and call it out when they see it or experience it online. The short videos will highlight the ridiculous and archaic nature of homophobic abuse, and will be shared across EE’s social media channels.

Further members of the EE Hope United squad, including Rio Ferdinand, Lucy Bronze and Andy Robertson, will feature in a free online video content series, sharing digital skills to educate users on how to challenge and report online homophobic abuse. A supplementary post-match-analysis-style video with Declan Rice will also be released after key Premier League fixtures, in which the England midfielder confronts abuse directed both at him and his fellow players.

The campaign has been devised in partnership with Football v Homophobia (FvH), an international initiative that exists to challenge discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression at all levels in football, engaging in campaigning, education, advice and guidance, research, policy consultation and capacity building. As well as LGBT History Month, February marks the FvH’s Month of Action, which focuses on asking supporters, clubs, players and the football authorities to focus their efforts on challenging homophobic attitudes.

Hope United shirts will be available to purchase*, with all profits going to Cybersmile, a nonprofit organisation committed to digital wellbeing and tackling all forms of bullying and abuse online.

The launch of GayVAR comes as research commissioned by EE** revealed almost three quarters (71%) of Brits agree homophobia is a problem in football, which rises to nine in 10 (88%) among LGBTQ+ respondents. Nearly half (40%) believe that social media exacerbates the issue.

A quarter of those surveyed have witnessed online homophobic hate firsthand in the past two years. However, worryingly, despite its prevalence few speak out against it; more than one in four (27%) witnesses to homophonic abuse took no action. Notably, the wider UK population is less likely to take action than respondents in the LGBTQ+ community if they witnessed hate (27% vs 21%), suggesting the need for more allyship from the wider UK population.

Hope United was created by Saatchi & Saatchi, with PR run by Pitch Marketing Group and media buying by Essence. The campaign marks a continuation of the Hope United initiative which was launched in 2021 ahead of the UEFA European Championships to tackle all forms of online hate, with a second phase of the campaign tackling the specific topic of sexist hate ahead of the UEFA Women’s European Championships in 2022.

The fact that Hope United is now on its third iteration demonstrates that the nature of online abuse is as varied as it is abhorrent. As long as online hate exists, Hope United will have a role to play, and EE will continue to use its platform to help create a more inclusive digital society.
Pete Jeavons
Director Marketing Comms at EE
With GayVAR we wanted to flip a format football fans are familiar with, and use it to highlight the real homophobic abuse that happens around the game. There’s a line and if you cross it, it calls it.
Will John
Executive Creative Director, Saatchi & Saatchi

For more information on Hope United visit:

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