Greg Clarke: FA chairman says gay footballers 'reticent to engage with me'

By David OrnsteinBBC Sport
Greg Clarke
Greg Clarke is a former chairman of Leicester City and the Football League

Football Association chairman Greg Clarke says his attempts to hold talks with gay footballers are failing.

Speaking at equality charity Stonewall's Rainbow Laces summit, Clarke said he had been working on the issue since starting his role at the FA in late August.

"We're trying to engage with them, to talk to them," Clarke told an audience at Manchester United's Old Trafford.

"But, to be perfectly frank, they are reticent to engage with me."

Clarke was on a panel discussing the problems faced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in football.

"Despite nine months of going round and seeing people from athletics, from cricket, from rugby and many other sports, I've yet to meet one professional footballer who felt comfortable enough to have a private meeting at a venue and time of their choosing," he said.

"I said: 'I will come to you, I will travel, I will meet anywhere.'

"You can talk to people from the women's game, which is inclusive, which is safe. But something about the men's game is not right. If it was right, we could have those conversations."

Thomas Hitzlsperger
After retiring, former Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger revealed he is gay

Justin Fashanu, in 1990, was the first professional footballer in England to come out as gay. He took his own life in 1998, aged 37. No male professional player has since come out while playing in England.

Clarke told a Commons Select Committee in October that Premier League players may suffer "significant abuse" if they said they were gay.

More recently, he suggested gay male footballers should come out collectively rather than on their own.

Clarke says football will have "succeeded" when men's finals and competitions have the "same feel" as Saturday's Women's FA Cup final.

"It's not about how many training courses we run, how many processes we do, how much retraining we do for the people who got caught doing bad things. It's about when the men's game starts to feel as inclusive as the women's game, we're there," he said.

Clarke believes that point was still "a couple of decades" away.

In October, 5 live polled more than 4,000 people into attitudes about homophobia in sport

"People of 18, 19, 20 have different attitudes to people who are 58, 59, 60 and what will happen is as society transforms, the bad behaviour in football will become less and less acceptable," said Clarke. "Football leads society, but it also follows society.

"What we need to do is make sure we penalise bad behaviour, reward good behaviour, train people, work with people behind the scenes, make sure inclusion happens, make sure people who want to come out feel safe.

"But that is not going to be cracked in six months."

'Social media turning the clock back'

Premier League executive director Bill Bush believes football is more prepared for players to come out than is perceived outside of the game.

However, he feels social media and the potential reaction of some people online provides a barrier.

"These stories take a life of their own; they will live on social media in their billions of comments, some of which will be abusive," said Bush.

"The lack of restraint on social media, the lack of any kind of legal intervention... in fact one of the problems we're concerned about is that because of the normalisation of abusive language online, almost the clock is being turned back.

"Grounds have become much more tolerant places historically, but you can just feel that the abusive elements of the online world normalise the vocabulary in people's minds and they begin to think they can repeat it in real life."

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