Referee Ryan Atkin tells My Icon: Rainbow Laces he's glad to be openly gay in football
Watch Ryan Atkin on My Icon: Rainbow Laces - available now On Demand
By Sky Sports
Last Updated: 30/11/17 7:53pm
Ryan Atkin says he is happy to have blazed a trail in professional men's football, having chosen to come out publicly in the summer.
In a new interview for the final episode of Sky Sports' My Icon: Rainbow Laces series, which focuses on the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and LGBT allies in sport, referee Atkin discusses his journey in the game as a gay man to date and his decision to share his story back in August.
Atkin was all too familiar with the long-standing taboo of homosexuality and bisexuality in men's football but finding himself back on track in his refereeing career after a difficult period, the 32-year-old elected to open up in a bid to be true to himself and to help move the sport forward on inclusion.
"I got promoted this season and afterwards, I sat down and discussed it with a few friends and I thought 'now is the time for me personally'," he tells My Icon.
"Having been demoted and then being promoted, and being happy with who I am, I didn't want to have a reoccurrence of not enjoying football because I wasn't being me."
I want to hopefully be remembered as a good referee. My journey will be based on my refereeing - no positive discrimination.
Atkin, who currently takes charge of games in the National League South and serves as a fourth official in EFL fixtures, has been widely hailed for personally taking on a subject that others have previously feared to embrace.
"I think it's probably one of the best things that I've done in my life," he says.
"It's allowed me to excel in my refereeing, because I'm comfortable with who I am.
"I don't have to hide any more, I don't have to lie. It's brought more fulfilment to my life, being able to be open within the sport, and ultimately it's made me a happier person."
Atkin admits he had a complicated relationship with football growing up.
"You're expected as a boy to be involved in sport - it's a 'manly' thing to do," explains Atkin.
"For me, looking back, I think it was potentially a way of hiding my sexuality and doing things that maybe would make me feel different.
"But as I grew up, I accepted who I was - and who I am."
The referee is willing to be a passionate voice for the benefits of diversity and 'being yourself' but insists his ambitions in sport remain within the white lines.
"I want to hopefully be remembered as a good referee. My journey will be based on my refereeing - no positive discrimination," he says.
"That's key, not only from my colleagues but also from the general public - they want you to be good at your profession, not 'the gay referee'.
"I firmly believe that when you are who you want to be, you will strive to be the best that you can."
Don't miss Ryan Atkin on My Icon: Rainbow Laces. All My Icon episodes are also available on Demand.