London (AFP) – Men’s football is “probably a couple of decades” away from being as socially inclusive as the women’s game, the chairman of England’s Football Association said Monday.
Greg Clarke, speaking on Monday at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality charity Stonewall’s ‘Rainbow Laces’ summit at Old Trafford, said there was something “not right” about the men’s game in this area.
At present, there are no openly gay footballers in the Premier League, with German midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, who played in the top division of English football for Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton, only ‘coming out’ after retiring.
“I have had conversations with the PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association) and the LMA (League Managers’ Association) on this issue, and we have talked about how we can encourage professional footballers who want to come out to come out in a safe space.
“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 because if it was right, we could have those conversations.”
Clarke added: “I was at the Women’s FA Cup final (last Saturday) and it was great, inclusive — there were gay people, straight people, transgender people, and it was a wonderful occasion.
“For me, when the finals in the men’s competitions have the same feel, we will have succeeded.”
Asked when he thought that would be, Clarke replied: “Probably a couple of decades.”
Late last year, Clarke said “it would be impossible for a gay Premier League player to come out” because of the abuse they would receive from a vocal minority both sat grounds and on social media.
Clarke, however, insisted Monday: “I wasn’t ever trying to demonise the fans at all — it is not their issue, it’s just there is more of them than any other group.”
He added: “We are working with the Premier League, the EFL, the national game to make sure we stamp out incidents of homophobia, and we are working on inclusion policies. I’m very positive — but we have got to not take progress for granted.
“We need to make sure we penalise bad behaviour and 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.”
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