Three gay soccer players are in talks with The Football Association in England about coming out, according to lawmaker and former journalist John Nicolson.
Nicolson, a member of the Culture Media & Sport select committee, made the claim during a parliamentary inquiry into homophobia in sports, reports The Telegraph.
He asked the sports minister, Tracey Crouch, how they could ensure those athletes feel safe and supported enough to come out. He noted Greg Clarke, the chairman of The FA, told the committee in October that gay players would be likely to suffer “significant abuse.”
Crouch has pushed back against those comments, calling them “the complete opposite of the kind of support that a player needs” and pointing to surveys showing most fans would be fine with their team including an openly gay player.
Responding directly to Nicolson, she responded:
“There are these research points out there. Nine out of 10 people would not be bothered; the Radio Five poll of 4,000 people across England, Wales and Scotland said that most fans would be comfortable with their club signing a gay player; 82 per cent of supporters said they had no issue with a gay player.
“So, in terms of the environment of somebody coming out, actually, today, now, [there] has probably never been a better time to come out.”
In 1990, Justin Fashanu became the first player in England to come out as gay. Tragically, he died as a result of suicide eight years later, at the age of 37.
Thomas Hitzlsperger, former Aston Villa and Germany midfielder, came out nearly three years ago. He did so after he had already left the league but became the first player who played with the Premier League to publicly come out.
Former England women’s captain Casey Stoney became the first active soccer player since Fashanu to come out.
Players to come out outside of the country include Robbie Rogers, David Testo, Anton Hysén, Abby Wambach and Olivier Rouyer.
Hysén said he has only heard one homophobic comment from the stands in the five years since he came out, and that another fan shut it down.
Just over a year ago there were reports that an England men’s player and another Premier League star were considering coming out but that has so far not materialized.
UPDATE: The FA has announced that they are not in talks with any players about coming out. Nicolson has said that his information came from the media reports, referenced above.