Former rugby player Gareth Thomas is supporting a new campaign against homophobia in football, which encourages professional footballers to wear rainbow laces on their boots.

“The Right Behind Gay Footballers” project by gay rights charity Stonewall and bookmaker Paddy Power is focused on changing attitudes in football rather than urging players to come out and wants players to wear rainbow laces in games on Saturday and Sunday.

It has the support of QPR midfielder Joey Barton.

Gareth Thomas became rugby’s first openly gay professional player to come out and continue playing in 2009.

Writing on the Paddy Power Blog, he said: “Rainbow Laces is the best possible place to start changing attitudes. Professional footballers are role models and whether they want to embrace it or not, they have the power to influence huge change. Millions and millions of people watch them each week and take their cues from what they do and say. Their decisions are followed by huge numbers of people. Rainbow Laces starts with the people at the top and from there, the changing attitudes influence the people in the stands and at home. All of a sudden, people of all ages will start to realise that a person’s sexuality makes no difference to their ability and their willingness to give it everything for their team.”

Thomas, who retired from professional rugby in October 2011, mentioned the 2010 incident where he received anti-gay taunts from Castleford Tigers rugby club fans during a match.

“There was one match in Castleford after I came out which was particularly difficult,” Thomas said. “The fans threw homophobic abuse at me all night. I’ve always been fine with abuse from the terraces because people get passionate about their teams and you’re the opposition, so it’s natural. They’ll use whatever they can to try and put you off your game. If you’re tall, short, fat, skinny, got big ears, if you fuck up – people will use anything. You need to be big enough to accept it. But this went too far. This crossed a line. It was a horrible moment in my sporting life, but I never reported it. It was other people in the stands who reported it. They found it offensive enough to take it to the authorities. That restored some of my faith in people and showed me the power of change.”