Former Chelsea footballer Chris Sutton has criticised the head of the FA for suggesting an openly gay player would face abuse.
The last player to come out in the top tiers of English football was Justin Fashanu, who came out in 1990 but died by suicide in 1998 after years of homophobic abuse and allegations of sexual assault.
Appearing in Parliament earlier this week, chairman of the Football Association Greg Clarke said he felt a gay player would still face homophobic abuse as Fashanu did.
He said: “I think there would be significant abuse. I don’t think we’ve cracked the problem yet. I would be amazed if we haven’t got gay players in the Premiere League, and I am personally ashamed that they don’t feel safe to come out.”
In a column for the Daily Mail, former Chelsea player Chris Sutton said the claim was unhelpful in convincing footballers to come out.
He wrote: “There has never been a better time for a footballer to come out and say: ‘I am gay.’ I completely disagree with Greg Clarke’s comments to the governance of football inquiry.
“The FA chairman said he ‘loathes’ and ‘feels ashamed’ that football has not created the ‘safe space’ — but when is that likely to happen? Five years? Ten years?
“He says there would be ‘significant abuse’, but is that true? We cannot use Twitter as a barometer of how people will react.
“Mr Clarke’s comments to MPs were intended to show that football is taking homophobia seriously, but he may have created another unintended obstacle with the message: ‘We are not ready yet.’ Why not?”
He added: “A football club dressing room can be a brutal environment, with team-mates always seeking a chink in the armour, but there is no dressing room that I played in — at Norwich, Blackburn, Chelsea, Celtic, Birmingham or Aston Villa — that would react with anything other than support.
“I’m convinced that once the first gay footballer comes out, others will follow. It will be the best thing that happens to the homophobia debate.”