British football’s first openly gay referee says he agrees that the game is stuck in the “dark ages” when it comes to homophobia.
In Ryan Atkin’s first gay press shoot and interview since coming out publicly in August, the National League ref says that top flight football is failing to takes LGBT issues as seriously as it takes issue like racism.
He tells the December issue of Attitude: “[Out former rugby star] Gareth Thomas is said football is stuck in the dark ages. He’s right. I don’t understand why homophobia in the game isn’t policed in the same way as racism.
“It’s as if comments can be made, and are just accepted. Which is wrong.”
The 32-year-old official adds: “Football has its rigid codes of behaviour and it doesn’t challenge the things it needs to.”
Ryan, who has been refereeing since 1999 and hopes to be a role model to other gay people in football, says a fear of being ostracised by his professional peers led to him to change his appearance and mannerisms when he first began his refereeing career.
“I remember when I started refereeing and thinking to myself, ‘Come on, grow a beard, it will add to your straight-bloke look’,” he recalls.
“I even changed my voice; my friends pointed out ot me that my voice was really deep when I was on the pitch, but when we were talking in person it was different.
He adds: “I was even conscious about what products I was using in the shower. I was worried if someone saw me using Molton Brown they would question my sexuality.”