PR guru Max Clifford has reiterated his advice to gay footballers to stay in the closet, saying the sport is “steeped in homophobia”.
He made his comments just after Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas came out but said he could not imagine a premiership footballer doing the same.
Clifford told PinkNews.co.uk in August he had counselled gay and bisexual footballer clients that their careers would be ruined if they came out.
He told the Independent on Sunday last week that while footballers themselves were not homophobic, fans could be “vicious”.
Stonewall research found that that seven out of ten football fans have heard homophobic abuse during a game.
Clifford told the newspaper: “It’s a very sad state of affairs. But it’s a fact that homophobia in football is as strong now as it was ten years ago. If you’d asked me in 2000 whether I thought we’d have a famous, openly gay footballer by 2010 I would have said yes.”
Peter Clayton, who chairs the Football Association’s Homophobia in Football group, suggested that “barriers” were in place to prevent footballers coming out.
He said: “Firstly, because the players are commercial assets and the clubs don’t want those assets damaged, and secondly because a player coming out would cause disruption.”
Although the Football Association’s anti-racism and homophobia body Kick It Out has been holding numerous events to tackle homophobia in the sport, it has failed to attract any current premiership players to support its aims.
High-profile players have been keen to support anti-racism initiatives but there has been a marked reluctance to stand up for gay players.
At a recent Kick It Out debate in Brighton, former Tottenham Hotspur, Crystal Palace and Brighton defender Gary O’Reilly said: “Some of the homophobic chanting that we hear at grounds today is nasty and vile and goes way beyond ‘banter’. Banter is a healthy part of the fans’ involvement in the game, but not when it crosses the line.
“There may be a reluctance for managers to buy players who are gay. However, if an extremely high profile and talented player was to declare his homosexuality, then that might change.”