One of Britain's most high-profile gay athletes says coming out in men's soccer isn't safe
- Gareth Thomas says coming out in men's soccer isn't safe and the sport does nothing about it.
- Thomas is one of Britain's most high-profile gay athletes.
- "In most forms of work, you could come out. But not in football," he said.
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Gareth Thomas, one of Britain's most high-profile gay athletes, says coming out in men's soccer is not safe and the sport is doing nothing about it.
Former Wales and British Lions captain Thomas became rugby union's first-ever professional gay player when he came out in 2009.
In 2019, he announced that he was positive for HIV.
Now retired, the 46-year-old anti-homophobia campaigner suffered abuse in the past, including being assaulted in 2016. He believes it is now more dangerous than ever for athletes, especially soccer players, to come out.
"Social media has allowed people to discriminate even more openly," he told The Guardian.
"I don't see anything that's been done within football apart from token gestures. Nobody can say to me that if a footballer came out as gay tomorrow, they would be absolutely safe at every single ground they went to," said Thomas.
Gay sportspeople have a complex relationship with the fans and spectators, said Thomas."We want them to like us. We want them to cheer us. I can't imagine somebody putting themselves in the position of thinking: 'I'm going to be open about my sexuality but that means I will face an element of abuse every week.'"
"The only way you would change that is if you create a new environment in football. You could come out in business or the media and feel safe. In most forms of work, you could come out. But not in football."
In September, English football's equality and inclusion organization Kick It Out published a report showing a 95% rise in abuse reports based on sexual orientation in the professional game during the 2019/20 season.
At the grassroots level, the organization reported that 41% of fans had witnessed homophobic abuse on social media.
"Things are said in a football stadium that would never be allowed on the street," said Thomas. "I understand football. If Swansea plays Cardiff, the home fans want to make it hostile for the away team. But we don't have to call people a faggot to create a hostile environment."
Thomas is lobbying to fix the problem. He has been working with the English government and the country's soccer authorities to amend the Football Offences Act 1991 to include homophobic abuse.
The legislation says it is an offense "to be abusive or insulting to a person by reason of his color, race, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins." It does not cover abuse based on sexual orientation.
"I've had meeting after meeting," he said. "All I'm asking is to amend the act that was created to prevent racism because people are more likely to use homophobic language in a sporting stadium than racism now.
"I started this four years ago and it still hasn't been done. But I'll never give up.
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