Peter Tatchell: 'FA Not Supporting Gay Footballers'

23/10/2013 12:18 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 23:58 GMT

Peter Tatchell has said the Football Association is not supporting gay players, accusing those at the top of the organisation of "shirking their responsibility" to tackle homophobia in the game.

The leading gay rights activist has said he knows gay and bisexual footballers who are out to their team mates and friends but who won't come out in public because they are "not confident that they would get strong enough support from the FA".

Out of more than 4,000 professional footballers in this country, not one is openly gay. For Tatchell, the game is "lagging behind the rest of society".

The news comes after the FA faced heavy criticism from the organisations only female board member Heather Rabbatts for a lack of diversity on the new FA commission to improve the England team.

Tatchell said: "There are good people at the FA, but they tend to not have much power. The people at the top of the organisation are shirking their responsibilities to tackle prejudice across the board. Not just with homophobia but also racism. Football is still not an inclusive sport."

Tatchell said he has been pushing the FA to embark on a high-profile anti-homophobia video campaign for 12 years, without success. He claimed that a video he was putting together featuring top players carrying the message that "homophobia isn't cool" was ignored by the organisation, despite receiving corporate backing.

He said: "I'm astonished the FA is not doing a high-profile PR campaign. They've got millions. They can afford it. There seems to be a lack of political will."

In the absence of a campaign from the FA, other organisations have stepped in. The bookmaker Paddy Power is encouraging players to wear rainbow laces in support of its 'Right Behind Gay Footballers' campaign.

Tatchell admits the slogan made him wince at first, but hopes the drive, which has only been taken up by small number of clubs, will catch the public's imagination; while also making it easier for gay players to come out in public.

He said: "Gay and bisexual footballers should come out, but I can sort of understand why they may be hesitant to do so by themselves. They're terrified of fans reactions and the fear that they'll lose commercial sponsorship. But I think those fears are misplaced.

"No major commercial sponsor is going to pull the plug on a footballer because they are gay. That would be commercial suicide. A company that did that would get a huge public backlash that would damage their brand and sales.

"I've always argued that several footballers should get together and jointly come out. A collective coming out would take the heat off an individual player and the undoubted media frenzy that would follow."

This isn't the first time the FA has come under fire for its attitudes to homosexuality. In 2012, former basketball player and gay rights campaigner John Amaechi called out the FA for being responsible for a "climate of homophobia" within the game.

In a statement, the FA challenged Tatchell's claims; citing a number of initiatives which are aimed at tackling discrimination.

A spokesman for the organisation said: "the FA's General Secretary Alex Horne has led on the anti-Homophobia agenda, helping to launch our Opening Doors and Joining In LGBT action plan at Wembley in 2012, with support from Club England MD Adrian Bevington. Alex Horne also led on an Opening Doors progress report at Speaker's House in Westminster earlier this year."