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English football referee comes out as gay: ‘Homophobia is still a problem’

Mayer Nissim August 10, 2017
Football in the EFL (EFL.com)

Football in the EFL (EFL.com)

A referee has become the first out gay official in English football.

Ryan Atkin has given a wide-ranging interview with Sky Sports, where he spoke about his sexuality and the homophobia that still blights football.

“For a number of reasons, I feel it’s the right time for me to say that I’m someone involved in professional football who happens to be gay,” Atkin said.

Related: Why are there no gay footballers in the Premier League?

“Clearly, this is a step into the unknown – in our UK pro game, it’s widely known that there are currently no openly gay footballers, nor have there been any openly gay referees until now.

“I hope that my action, however small, will help give others in a similar situation the confidence to be themselves.”

Of potentially being abused by fans, Atkin said: “Of course, being gay doesn’t matter in the context of refereeing a match but if I’m speaking about equality and diversity, then I’m going to mention that I’m gay because it’s relevant.

“Homophobia is still a problem, but things are improving all the time. You can change the game and culture when you change your mind – and those who do need education generally change their ways once they’ve been made aware that their behaviour is unacceptable in society.”

Atkin also backed Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign, which aims to promote the idea of inclusion in football.

Robbie de Santos, Head of Campaigns at Stonewall, said in a statement: “We’re so pleased Ryan feels able to be open about his sexuality.

“Ryan’s story underlines just how important it is that there are allies who are willing to stand up for LGBT inclusion in all levels of sport.

“He is an inspiring role model and his decision to come out will no doubt give others the confidence to be themselves in football.

“Role models who step up and talk about their experiences in public are so crucial, especially for young LGBT people. It lets them know they’re not alone and that they too can succeed in any career they choose.”

Atkin will work on the Panel List (Level 2b) for the 2017-18 football season.

Rainbow football

Related: US national football teams to play in LGBT kit

He’ll be the fourth official in EFL and National League matches, and be the primary referee in games in the National League North and South.

Earlier this year, non-league footballer Liam Davis made history when he became the first out gay male footballer to play at Wembley Stadium, as he represented Cleethorpes Town in the FA Vase final.

Football’s Kick It Out campaign this year issued 10,000 booklets to football stewards to help tackle anti-LGBT abuse.

FA boss Greg Clarke has admitted that men’s football is “two decades” behind the women’s game when it comes to its attitude to homosexuality.

Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe said in March that he would not hesitate to sign a gay footballer to the club.

More: EFL, English Football League, football, Kick it Out, rainbow laces, referee, Ryan Atkin, Stonewall

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