Britain's most high-profile gay sportsman sets a challenge for football: time to tackle homophobia

Welsh rugby star asks why no players are happy to come out and calls on FA to kick out prejudice

Click to follow
The Independent Football

The former Welsh rugby captain, Gareth Thomas, has urged the Football Association to make a public statement in support of gay footballers to break down homophobic prejudice in the game.

Speaking in a BBC documentary, Britain's most high-profile, openly gay sportsman claims talented players will be frightened away from a professional career unless the sport takes action to create a more welcoming atmosphere.

"I think if the FA were to make a statement saying ... we will stamp on anything, then it would create a safer environment that's comfortable for the footballers," said Thomas, 37.

He was interviewed for a documentary Britain's Gay Footballers, to be shown on BBC3 tonight. It is presented by Amal Fashanu, a model whose uncle, Justin Fashanu, was the last openly-gay professional footballer. The former Norwich City and Nottingham Forest striker, who suffered homophobic abuse after coming out, committed suicide in 1998. In the programme, Ms Fashanu tearfully confronts her father, the former Wimbledon striker John Fashanu, about his public hostility to his brother after he revealed his sexuality. He tells her the family was "scandalised" by Justin's revelations in a series of press articles. "Cheap, dirty, horrible scandals day after day. On the front page, saying you've had sexual relationships with MPs," he told his daughter. "We have a reputation. We have a name to protect." Ms Fashanu watched a television interview from the 1990s in which her father said: "I wouldn't like to play or even get changed in the vicinity of him. That's just the way I feel, so if I'm like that I'm sure the rest of football is like that."

Justin responded by saying:"I thought he had more depth and tolerance. We had been through so much together, especially as kids."

Both Fashanu brothers were sent to a Barnardo's home when their parents split up and were later adopted by a family in Norfolk. Asked by his daughter whether he now wished he had done more to support his brother, John said that "mistakes were made" but blamed selfishness on all sides. He said: "Justin was selfish ... to come out and not care or worry about anybody else and tell the world you were gay, at a time when it was so hostile."

Later in the programme, Ms Fashanu is told by Queen's Park Rangers midfielder Joey Barton that "certain individuals within the game will discriminate against people". "He adds: These archaic figures think if they had a gay footballer there would be all kinds of shenanigans going on in the dressing room."

A spokeswoman for the FA told the programme action was being taken at "grass roots" level to tackle homophobic prejudice.