Former Wales rugby player, Gareth Thomas, believes that football isn’t ready for openly gay players due to the amount of homophobia still surrounding the sport.
Despite it being 2017, homophobic chants are still heard at football grounds today, and although they’re sang far less often and far quieter than 20 years, they’re no less damaging.
Gareth Thomas, who came out as gay in 2009, doesn’t believe the footballing world is ready to embrace openly gay players and reckons that the FA has to be as strict with homophobia in the stands as they are with racism if they want this to change.
“Unless football wants to be left behind in the dark ages then it has to [improve],” Thomas said in a new documentary for BBC One Wales, which aired on Thursday night.
“But until it’s policed as stringently as racism is policed, then it will always be a problem.”
The last top-flight footballer to come out as gay was Norwich striker Justin Fashanu in 1990, who tragically committed suicide in 1998. However, former Leeds United and United States player Robbie Rogers and ex-Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger have also came out in 2014 and 2013 respectively.
“You’ll struggle to get a single player to openly talk about his support against homophobia because he stands the backlash of guilt by association,” Thomas said.
“It does feel like football is not ready for it. If a player is ready it could be a great success or it could be a great disaster.
“I think they need reassurance that everything will be OK and they’ll be judged on their footballing ability and not their sexuality.”
Considering, as the BBC points out, in 2015, 2% of men came out at gay or bisexual yet none of the 5,000+ professional male footballers have speaks volumes.
According to LGBT organisation, Stonewall, one in six bisexual, lesbian or gay people have suffered homophobic or biphobic hate crime.
Fewer than 10 of the victims who reported the incident to the police said it led to a conviction.
26% of bisexual, gay and lesbian people have altered their behaviour to hide their sexual orientation out of fear of hate crime.
Consider these statistics in an environment where homophobia is still rife and there’s no wonder why gay football stay in the closet.
As Gareth Thomas says, something has to be done if we’re going to have any hope of moving forward.
You can watch Gareth Thomas: Hate in the beautiful game, BBC One Wales on BBC iPlayer now.