Rugby referee Nigel Owens is backing a campaign to tackle homophobic attitudes in sport and says football would benefit from having a gay “champion” in the same way Gareth Thomas took up the mantle for rugby.

The debate about gay role models in football has been the subject of much press attention in the past 24 hours.

On Wednesday, the Gay Football Supporters Network (GSFN) criticised the Daily Mail for publishing an article suggesting footballer Joey Barton would make a suitable “gay hero” for the sport, because it trivialised the debate about homophobia in football.

Earlier, Barton, 31, who is heterosexual and married, tweeted his displeasure over the article written by the Mail’s sports columnist Martin Samuel and hinted at potential legal action.

According to WalesOnline, speaking on Thursday at the launch of a new group designed to tackle discrimination in sport, Nigel Owens, who is the first openly gay man to referee rugby at international level, said:

“Everybody is waiting for a footballer to come out.

“It will happen. There is someone in every sport in the world who is lesbian, gay or bisexual.

“When it does happen I don’t think it will be as big an issue as people think”.

On the issue of sexual stereotypes, Owens said:

“People at home see these stereotyped characters of gay people that are camp and very funny and assume that’s what every gay person is like.

“It doesn’t occur to them that somebody exactly the same as them would be gay.

“By sports visibly committing to tackling homophobia it can only reassure people that they will be welcomed and accepted – no matter what.”

According to the BBC, the 44-year-old also spoke of the abuse he has faced on the sporting field since coming out as gay.

Figures published by Sport Wales and gay rights group Stonewall Cymru show that 25% of lesbian, gay and bisexual people surveyed had felt isolated due to their sexuality.

Gareth Thomas, rugby’s first openly gay professional player retired last year.