Gay rugby player challenges homophobic internet trolls to say it to his face

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A gay rugby player has invited homophobic internet trolls to come and repeat their abuse to his face.

Former Wales player Gareth Thomas, who came out in 2009, issued the challenge to football fans who posted abuse about Brighton and Hove Albion, while following the club for a documentary.

Thomas issued an invitation to members of a Crystal Palace message board, after threatening homophobic comments were posted online.

The player offered an on-camera meeting to the trolls while filming documentary Alfie v Homophobia: Hate In The Beautiful Game, which looks at homophobia in the sport.

The player also witnessed homophobic chants and gestures by Leeds United fans at a match against Brighton.

Thomas said: “The most surprising thing out of everything is the acceptance of the level of abuse – the normality that abuse has been given. I find that unacceptable.

“It’s a human right that we are allowed to be who we want to be – but within this game if you’re not the stereotypical male or female we expect you to be then we’re allowed to abuse you for 90 minutes. I would give my right arm to sit down in a room with one of these people, just to understand their views.”

In the documentary, Thomas opens up about his “years of torment” he’d been through before he announced he was gay, having to hide who he really was from the rest of the world.

But he says he was pleasantly surprised by the reaction to the news by those around him.

He said: “It took my team-mates, my friends, my family, probably 30 seconds of contemplation to be able to say ‘it doesn’t matter’. And to me, all of a sudden, life was completely different.”

The programme follows Thomas’s personal mission to tackle homophobia in football, and he also attempts to meet some of those who run the game to discuss what support, if any, there is for a gay player who decides to come out.

There are currently no openly gay players in the top tiers of English football. The last player to come out while playing was Justin Fashanu, who came out in 1990 but died by suicide in 1998 after years of homophobic abuse.

Former Leeds United player Robbie Rogers and former Aston Villa player Thomas Hitzlsperger have both come out as gay in recent years, but only after retiring from English football.

Alfie v Homophobia: Hate In The Beautiful Game arrives on BBC iPlayer on July 27.