Three footballers are speaking with the Football Association (FA) about coming out as gay, an MP has revealed.
The SNP’s John Nicholson made the remarks during a Department of Culture, Media and Sport hearing into homophobia in sport.
“I understand there are three players in talks with the FA about coming out, and they haven’t done so yet”, he said.
During the hearing sports minister Tracey Crouch slammed FA chairman Greg Clarke for saying in October he “wouldn’t recommend” a player coming out “at the moment”.
Crouch said his comments were “disappointing”, adding “If you have got comments right at the top saying now is not the right time, no wonder in many respects that they remain scared.”
“In terms of the environment of someone coming out, today, now, has probably never been a better time to come out”, she said.
“Society has changed really quite significantly from a generational perspective in terms of attitude towards homosexuality.”
“I think if someone were to decide to come out that they should feel they are being supported by the authorities and that any abuse would be tackled in the same way as it would be if it was directed towards one of their black players.”
“I would say to anyone in any sport that if they felt the time was right to come out - and that is a personal decision for them - that they should feel they have the support of the governing bodies they are within.”
Later in the hearing Welsh rugby referee Nigel Owens spoke movingly about homophobic abuse he had suffered when young, saying “your stomach cramps up with a sense of sickness”.
Referred to his suicide attempt at the age of 26, he said that abuse over being gay “could have been enough to tip me over the edge and try and take my own life.”
Owens, recognised as one of the world’s best referees, spoke of the risks of young gay players self-harming or attempting suicide as a result of homophobia in sport, telling ministers “You don’t understand the harm that does when someone says something or shouts something.”
Addressing young sportspeople who might be watching, he said “The problem is not you, you are not the weak person.”
On the issue of players coming out, Owens said he thought the “majority of people in football will react hugely positively”.