Gay actor Sir Ian McKellen has criticised the sporting world for being “slow to catch up” with progress on gay players.

In the last few months, two major stars have come out. Donal Og Cusack, or Ireland’s Cork hurling team, announced he was gay in October, while Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas came out in December.

Both admissions were greeted with shock, although the men have praised the support they received from friends and fans.

But Sir Ian said things were not changing fast enough.

In an interview with Radio 5 Live’s Tony Livesey, to be broadcast tonight, the veteran actor said macho stars could become “shrinking violets” after homophobic abuse from fans.

He said: “The sports world should be ashamed of itself. It’s full of all these macho men and strong women who go out and dedicate their lives…

”They’re absolutely admirable people in many senses – but when it comes to the business of simply being honest about who they are, some of them become little shrinking violets because they’re afraid, probably, of being booed from the terraces, and that must be a horrible experience and shame on people who do it.

”But it ain’t going to stop someone being a fantastic footballer because they’re honest about their private lives, is it? I don’t believe so and the world is changing and sport, I’m afraid, is very slow to catch up.”

The 70-year-old actor first talked about homosexuality in 1988, when he came out. He recently attacked the “camp” portrayal of gays on television, citing Little Britain as an example.

The interview will be broadcast at 10.30pm tonight.