The world of sports is still crushingly straight… at least in public. So, whenever an athlete or official in the business comes out, it’s a big deal. That’s a fact whether some like it or not. And the next big deal has come upon us.
A few months ago there were talks of a few anonymous football (soccer) athletes considering coming out. No one’s heard anything about that since. But, it looks like a referee might be leading them by example.
Ryan Atkin is a professional football referee in the UK and he is now the first UK ref to officially come out.
“Being gay doesn’t matter in the context of refereeing a football match,” Atkin told Sky Sports, “But if I’m speaking about equality and diversity, then I’m going to mention that I’m gay because it’s relevant. Homophobia is still a problem, but things are improving all the time.”
Atkin also had to say that he saw a movement towards acceptance of LGBTQ people in the sport thanks to campaigns fighting against homophobia.
“The Rainbow Laces campaign has been hugely important. There is a growing number of club LGBT fan groups, and major sports brands such as Adidas and Nike are helping to deliver the same message to wider audiences across the globe.”
But again, the sport is still struggling largely with that aspect. In fact, in the UK there are currently no openly gay athletes. Something that Atkin noted himself.
“Clearly, this is a step into the unknown – in our UK pro game, it’s widely known that there are currently no openly gay footballers, nor have there been any openly gay referees until now. I hope that my action, however small, will help give others in a similar situation the confidence to be themselves. In a few years’ time, articles like this won’t be necessary. But until that point, all of us in football have a duty to create an environment where everyone can feel comfortable. It’s OK to be different and when we all truly believe that, we’ll start to move on.”
And at the moment it seems that everyone is in support of Ryan Atkin, including Neale Barry who is the head senior referee development for the FA.
“The FA offers its full backing to Ryan. Our role is to support all referees, aid their development, maximize their potential and, above all, help ensure their experiences are positive. Ryan’s declaration marks an important moment in the game and reinforces the fact that refereeing really is open to everyone.”
Let’s hope someday the same will be said for the athletes.