Culture of secrecy still surrounds gay footballers

LONDON (Reuters) - More than one in four British professional soccer players, coaches and referees polled in an online survey personally know gay footballers currently in the game.

A football is pictured before the 2010 World Cup Group D match between Australia and Germany at Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban, South Africa, June 13, 2010. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

Researchers Ellis Cashmore and Jamie Cleland have sent the findings of the survey of more than 3,000 fans and football professionals to both the Football Association and the Professional Footballers’ Association.

“Of the professional players, coaches and referees in the survey, over one in four (27 percent) personally know gay players currently in the game, though none have taken the step of coming out,” Cashmore said in a statement released to Reuters.

“There are about half a million professional football players in the world. Not one of them is openly gay. Football fans are now challenging the game’s governing organisations to oppose the culture of secrecy surrounding gay players.”

Cashmore, a professor of culture, media and sport at Staffordshire University, said the survey showed fans and professionals firmly believed that gay footballers were pressured into keeping their sexual preferences secret by agents and their clubs rather than the fear of abuse from fans.

“It seems commercial pressures are behind football’s secretiveness,” he said.

“But being gay hasn’t hurt the careers of actors, musicians and politicians, and people in the study think that the first openly gay footballer would have tremendous branding opportunities.”

Cleland, a senior lecturer in sociology and a former Coventry City goalkeeper, said fans thought gay players were urged by their agents and their clubs not to disclose their homosexuality.

“Fans say they are too often blamed, but over 90 percent say there is no place for homophobia in football,” he said.

Only one footballer has ever announced he was homosexual during his professional career.

Justin Fashanu, who played for many clubs, including Norwich City, Nottingham Forest and Manchester City, and who faced racial abuse from the terraces, committed suicide in 1998, aged 37.