Rugby star Ben Cohen has exclusively told PinkNews.co.uk that he believes the continuous media debate surrounding the absence of an openly gay professional footballer in the UK can amount to a “witch hunt”.

“I think there is a bit of a witch hunt to find a professional footballer,” he said to PinkNews.co.uk. “There’s already a gay cricketer, a gay rugby player and that was fine but its a gay footballer that people want, someone in the premier league. People will question whether they are high profile enough.”

The former England rugby union international gave a speech at ParliOut, the Houses of Parliament’s gay staff network, earlier this week.

He said more needed to be done to combat homophobia in sport.

At the event Minister for Sport, Hugh Robertson, admitted he was “slightly appalled” by the fact that so few sports people feel able to come out whilst still competing.

Earlier this month, former Leeds United football player Robbie Rogers came out as gay and at the same time immediately announced his retirement from the game.

Since retiring from professional rugby in 2011, Cohen has dedicated much of his time to tackling the problem of homophobic bullying and has since become a much-admired high profile straight ally of the LGBT community.

Cohen said to PinkNews: “Coming out means being comfortable with yourself, that’s the main thing.”

The 34-year-old added: “There’s something quite powerful about a straight person advocating for gay rights, what’s needed is more gay sportsman to feel comfortable to come out.

“There isn’t a commercial question, that’s not what they will be considering, it’s very public, very open that’s why it’s harder. Will [gay footballers] be accepted by their team mates and their fans?”

Meanwhile, the Speaker of the House of Commons John Berow was briefly left red-faced after incorrectly referring to Ben Cohen as “openly gay” – at the event – even though the former player has a wife and is straight.

Cohen said the gaffe had been taken with good humour.