An openly gay footballer would still face ‘significant abuse’, FA chief says

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The head of the Football Association has claimed that an openly gay footballer would still face “significant abuse” in the sport.

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.

Former Leeds United player Robbie Rogers and former Aston Villa player Thomas Hitzlsperger have both come out as gay, but only after retiring from the sport.

Greg Clarke, the chairman of the Football Association, spoke about the sport’s issues with homophobia while appearing before Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

Responding to a question from out SNP MP John Nicolson, Mr Clarke said: “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.”

Asked if he felt a gay player would face levels of abuse as Fashanu did, he said: “I think there would be significant abuse. I don’t think we’ve cracked the problem yet.”

He added: “I think what we have in football is a cross-section of society. When you get a sample size of 4 million [football fans], they tend towards the behaviour of the general population.

“There’s a very small minority of people who hurl vile abuse at people who they percieve are different. Our job is to stamp job hard on that behaviour.

“There was an example at the weekend, where there are allegations that Luton fans were hurling homophobic abuse at a group of men who they perceived to be gay. That behaviour is disgusting and needs stamping out, and I am absolutely determined that we do stamp it out.

“If I was a gay man, why would I expose myself to that? Our job is to identify anybody guilty of persecuting in any way members of a minority group.

“Our job as the regulator is to come down like a ton of bricks, and make sure that kind of aberrant behaviour is driven from the game.”

He added that the FA aims to “identify, target and punish people” who spew homophobic abuse.