A popular Italian sports magazine has faced a backlash from readers after featuring a gay rugby couple on its most recent cover.

The 11 July edition of SportWeek features Giacomo and Stefano – a gay couple who also play together on gay-friendly amateur Rome squad Libera Rugby. The cover features the provocative headline, ‘Who’s afraid of a kiss?’.

Judging by the reaction of many readers of the magazine, a lot of people.

“That’s absolutely disgusting,” tweeted one angry fan.

“You’re painfully conformist and ideological,” wrote another.

Arguably one of the most troubling comments was that which asked the magazine, “Tell me how I explain it to my 5 year old son.”

However, the cover also generated a lot of support on the magazine’s social media channel, with many, more liberal readers viewing the cover as a positive, long overdue challenge to the homophobia that often goes unchallenged in Italian sport.

“I’m not afraid,” wrote a Twitter user, “but many Italians are, and its fear and ignorance that create homophobia.”

The issue is centred around tackling “the last taboo” in world sports, and features articles and interviews on Italy’s first gay-friendly rugby team. The controversial cover is set to add momentum to the Italian LGBT community’s fight for equality, at a time when gay rights in the country are beginning to gain traction.

Homosexuality, however, remains is a divisive issue in the Catholic-majority nation.

Italy is the only Western European country not to recognize either gay marriage or civil unions.

Last week, PinkNews interviewed a member of the Italian Government, who has gone on hunger strike in order to push for a date for civil unions to be voted on.

Ivan Scalfarotto – the undersecretary for Parliamentary relations – took the drastic measure as thousands of amendments were submitted to a bill for civil unions in order to sabotage it, meaning it will take much longer than anticipated to be read.

Mr Scarlfarotto is not alone – just last month, a hundred thousand Italians took to the streets of Milan, to march for equality, holding up signs saying si – yes – to same-sex civil unions.