• EE Hope United squad rallies to tackle online homophobic hate
  • Joe Cole and Tom Allen kick off GayVAR, a campaign inspired by pitch-side VAR (Video Assistant Referee) and dedicated to calling out homophobic social media posts
  • EE has created the campaign in partnership with Football v Homophobia
  • Almost three quarters of Brits agree homophobia is a problem in football
  • For more information on EE Hope United, visit

EE has rallied its Hope United squad to launch GayVAR; a campaign tackling the issue of online homophobia within football.

Inspired by pitch-side VAR (Video Assistant Referee), and fronted by former England international Joe Cole and comedian Tom Allen, the GayVAR video content series will encourage fans to take a stand and call out online homophobic hate when they see or experience it online.

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. The short videos will highlight the ridiculous and archaic nature of homophobia, and will be shared across EE’s social media channels, refuting claims that it is merely ‘banter’.

The first set of videos will be posted this Friday (24th February), ahead of and during the Premier League match between Fulham and Wolverhampton Wanderers. The campaign’s launch video can be watched here:

The arrival 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.

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.

Tom Allen, comedian and presenter, commented, “The fact that language associated with homosexuality is still bandied around as an insult in 2023 is frankly ridiculous, and calling it out is a big first step to removing this stigma. Gone are the days of passing it off as ‘banter’: it’s time people realised the far-reaching impact this kind of abuse can have. Calling someone ‘gay’ for example should never be a negative thing - if anything it’s a compliment, and I’m living proof of that. I’m fabulous, right?”

Pete Jeavons, Director Marketing Comms at EE, added: “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.”

Lou Englefield, Campaign Director, Football v Homophobia, commented, “Fans, players, clubs and brands are in such a strong position to put a stop to homophobic abuse, and share the fact that it’s as simple as putting your hand up and saying ‘that’s not ok’. Football should be for everyone and this is the key message everyone should share.”

Launched in 2021, ahead of the UEFA European Championships, Hope United aims to tackle all forms of online hate though support for change and educating the nation on how to protect themselves online and be good digital citizens. It returned last year, ahead of the UEFA European Women's Football Championship, to fight online sexist hate.

EE Hope United contributes towards BT Group’s ambitious target to reach 25 million people by the end of March 2026 through its BT Skills for Tomorrow programme, which helps to tackle the digital divide and support the UK’s economic recovery. In line with BT’s purpose to Connect for Good, the new ambition aims to help more people across the UK have the skills they need to stay connected and make the most of life in the digital world.

Hope United is part of EE’s ongoing commitment as the lead partner of the four home nation football associations to affect positive societal change; focused on breaking down barriers, increasing diversity and inclusion, providing opportunities and supporting those in the UK that need it the most, especially within grassroots, women’s and para football communities.

For more information on Hope United

* Source: The research was commissioned by EE and carried out by YouGov in November 2022. A total of 3000 people in the UK were surveyed: a sample of 2085 that is representative of the UK adult population as a whole, and a separate, non-representative sample of 1002 UK respondents who specifically identify as LGBTQ+. 

**Shirts can be purchased at: