Is English football ready for a gay star?
Rainbow Laces campaign raising awareness of homophobia
By Geraint Hughes, Sky Sports News HQ
Last Updated: 21/08/17 4:40pm
The colours of the rainbow will be seen this weekend at football stadiums up and down the United Kingdom.
The Rainbow Laces campaign carries a simple message: 'Make sport everyone's game'. The aim is to create awareness of homophobia and a pathway to stop abuse and change attitudes.
The issues are huge.
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Football Association chairman Greg Clarke told a committee of MPs in October that he "wouldn't recommend" that a male gay footballer come out publicly right now. The comments were viewed as clumsy and awkward; however, a relevant point had been made and a conversation had begun.
Does an environment exist where a current footballer would feel comfortable to come out as a gay man?
"We have been and are working so hard so that if a player felt they wanted to have the conversation about coming out, we would be there and offer any and all the support we could," the FA's Head of Equality Sue Ravenlaw said.
"We understand it would be such a difficult decision, but I reiterate all the support would be there."
There are currently many anti-homophobia charities striving to create that suitable and safe environment, in the event that a professional footballer does reveal himself to be gay.
"Football is in a bubble when it comes to gay men playing the game. We're used to stubborn professions and working with them, the army, navy, the Church of England," said Ruth Hunt, chief executive of Stonewall, the charity behind the idea of the Rainbow Laces campaign.
"We understand how difficult it could be for just 'the one' to come out. It may be easier if a group of players came out together."
While no professional footballer currently playing in England has revealed they are gay, many gay men play the game every weekend.
Stonewall FC is the world's oldest openly gay football club, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
Eric Najib, who manages the club's first XI, says attitudes towards the LGBT community in sport have changed massively in recent years, but believes homophobic abuse is still prevalent.
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He said: "Some see homophobic abuse as funny, a bit of fun banter, but it's not.
"If a current gay footballer came out now, it would be massive - what a role model for many, many youngsters who may be right now confused. Instead of losing them to football or other sports, they'd have a role model.
"I could maybe see in the next two or three years, perhaps a player coming out, but it would have to be their choice. They must not be forced."