FA forced to defend appointment of gay slur equality board member Michael Johnson

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has called Johnson's inclusion into question after he labelled homosexuality as 'detestable' in 2012

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The Independent Football

The Football Association was forced on Thursday night to defend its appointment of former player Michael Johnson on its new Inclusion Advisory Board - which aims to foster equality in the game - after a row erupted over homophobic comments Johnson made in 2012.

The 40-year-old, who played for Birmingham City, Derby and Notts County as a defender, has apologised for the homophobic comments in which he described gays as "detestable" - but campaigners have called for further questions to be asked.

Johnson made the remarks in 2012 while appearing on BBC1 series The Big Questions, during which he opted not to back the FA anti-homophobia campaign.

He said: "Because of my beliefs, because of the Bible that I read, in the Bible it does state that homosexuality is detestable unto the Lord."

The Guardian first flagged the footage from 2012 on Thursday night, in which Johnson is asked by presenter Nicky Campbell if he would support the fight against homophobia. In a statement released to the newspaper in response, Johnson admitted he held "deep regret" over his comments on the television programme, adding that they were beliefs he no longer held.

He said: "I was invited on to the programme in March 2012 to talk about my faith. I was not prepared for the question and it is with deep regret that I answered it in the way I did back then. It was wrong and relates to a view I no longer hold," Johnson said.

"I have since invested a great deal of my time and energies into re-educating myself through reading, attending workshops and entering into debates. As a result, my whole way of thinking has changed. The Inclusion Advisory Board is all about education and changing opinions and, through my own personal experience and learning, I believe I can have a positive influence on the work being done by football on this vital agenda."

But human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell feels the Football Association still needs to explain its decision to retain Michael Johnson on the inclusion advisory board.

Although Tatchell acknowledged Johnson's latest remarks, he accused the FA of "double standards" over his appointment.

"If Michael's change of heart is genuine, then I'm reassured," Tatchell said.

"But why did it take criticism and pressure to get him to make a pro-gay equality statement? It came rather late in the day.

"The FA still has questions to answer. Why didn't they research Johnson's views on tackling homophobia before he was appointed? What were their criteria and procedures for making appointments to the equality board?

"The FA would never appoint a person who refused to support the campaign against racism. Why the double standards?"

Johnson, who is an ambassador for Birmingham children's hospital, was named in a 10-man IAB panel last month. The panel, which is due to meet later this month, is chaired by FA board member Heather Rabbatts and includes former England international Graeme Le Saux.

The FA was unaware of Johnson's comments when it appointed him, but Rabbatts has since spoken with Johnson and believes he has "a huge amount to offer to the inclusion advisory board".

Rabbatts added: "I have spoken to Michael in detail about this and I accept his account of what happened and his regret over the incident.

"More importantly for me and for Michael, we acknowledge that through his own personal journey he has a huge amount to offer to the inclusion advisory board."

The IAB will monitor the implementation of the FA's inclusion and anti-discrimination action plan for 2013-17, which aims to tackle under-representation in the game, as well as backing the government's charter for action against homophobia and transphobia.