First openly gay referee says big-name footballers need to do more

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The first openly gay referee in British football has said that big-name footballers need to do more to tackle homophobia in the sport.

Professional referee Ryan Atkins, who came out as gay in August, is a key figure in Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign.

But although the star is happy to be a part of the campaign, he feels that there needs to be help from elsewhere to make it work.

“I don’t think as much education has gone into inclusivity and acceptance,” he said to The Telegraph.

“We have made great strides when it has come to racism and making sure we treat people from all ethnic backgrounds equally.

“For me the Rainbow Laces campaign is about the building blocks to making change,” he added.

Although the Premier League has announced a three-year partnership with Stonewall, the visual elements of the campaign need to be complemented by vocal efforts from the players, says Atkins.

“There are key players in football who could make a difference by saying simply that homophobic abuse and homophobic comments are not acceptable,” he says.

“Gary Lineker wore Rainbow Laces on Match of the Day last year but he didn’t say those words.

“There are big names like Sir Alex Ferguson, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo but none of them have said it: that if you are going to be homophobic, then don’t participate in sport.

“It needs people who the younger generation look up to. These are the people who can challenge behaviours.”

It is clear that the campaign does have a long way to go.

Out of 92 clubs of the Premier League and Football League, only Charlton Athletic have an affiliated LGBT-friendly team who wear the club’s kit and use their training facilities.