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Should a soccer star be punished for calling a ref a f*cking poof?

By Walter Armstrong

Gay activists called foul on a British soccer champ for an alleged homophobic mouthoff last week, but the charges are having trouble getting traction.

Paul Tatchell, the outspoken head of British gay-rights group OutRage!, claims that Paul Scholes, the 31-year-old veteran Manchester United midfielder, made the remark after getting a yellow card for misconduct from a referee early in his club's 1-0 win over Lisbon's Benfica in the Champions League, a season climax seen by millions of TV viewers worldwide. Tatchell, for his part, caught the offense, which was inaudible, by reading Scholes' lips while watching the game on his telly. Scholes, known for his fiery red-hairy and free-flowing style, is believed to have called the ref "a fucking poof."

"We urge Paul to apologize and to express his opposition to homophobia," Tatchell said. "No player, referee or fan should have to endure abuse about their race or sexuality. There should be big fines and match suspensions for players, managers and supporters who willfully use anti-gay insults."

Tatchell's demand that Scholes apologize—and undergo gay-sensitivity training—made headlines, and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) promised to investigate the incident. But the deadline for an official decision passed with no comment from either UEFA or Scholes.

"If Paul had made a racist remark, UEFA would have initiated immediate disciplinary proceedings," Tatchell said, upping the volume. "Why the double standards? We urge Paul to apologize and to express his opposition to homophobia." The British sports media countered with stories reporting that Manchester United players were in fact complaining about racist abuse and "monkey chants" aimed at their dark-skinned members by the Lisbon crowd during the same game against Benfica.

While the ugly grunts and groans of monkey chants, a frequent feature of global soccer spectatorship, are widely condemned, the words "poof" and "poofter" arouse little animus. Their homophobic valence seems to lie somewhere between "queen" and "faggot."

Even PinkNews.co.uk, Britain's top gay news web site, asked, "In the context of [Scholes] being carded and angry, is the insult 'poofter' really willfully anti-gay or just a throwaway swear word?" The answer, according to their person-on-the-street survey, was, Chill out, Peter.

An example or two: "I don't think a lot of these insults mean very much," _a gay graduate student told PinkNews. "My friend's younger brother is 13 and he calls everything that annoys him 'gay.' The other day he didn't like his dinner and he said, 'This is so gay!'"

"There's a difference between a swear word and being deliberately homophobic, I think," said a female web site manager. "Are they going to fine people who use the word 'bitch' for being insulting to women? Get over it."