Gary Lineker hopes Premier League players come out during Qatar World Cup

Although Lineker's comments were presumably made in good faith, activists have warned that they may add pressure to players who are already struggling.

Gary Lineker holding a football.
Image: Twitter: @GaryLineker

Renowned football pundit Gary Lineker has said he wants to see a Premier League player come out as gay during the 2022 Qatar World Cup. The former England striker claims to know two queer male players in the nation’s top division, adding that they have nearly gone public about their sexualities before now.

“It would be great if one or two of them came out during the World Cup. It would be amazing,” Lineker told the Daily Mirror. “I know for a fact that some have been very close and contemplated it. There’s a couple I know, but obviously it’s not for me to say who they are.”

Earlier this year, Blackpool’s Jake Daniels became the UK’s only openly gay active male professional footballer, with Scottish player Zander Murray following suit in September. When asked why more players hadn’t come out since, Lineker said: “Fear. Fear of the unknown, I imagine.

“Perhaps they are worried what their teammates might think, although they probably already know. It seems insane that it should even be a thing,” he continued.

The Englishman said he was hopeful that more footballers would be open about their sexualities “because there are lots of players that are having to live a lie”.

“I’m sure it’s very difficult,” he added.

“But I think what we’ve seen so far is that the feedback and the response, it will be incredibly positive.

“If I were an agent of a big footballer, if I knew one of my players was gay, if he was a top player, I’d say, ‘Be the first big player’. I mean, as an agent, thinking in terms of promotion and stuff, you’re going to be huge.”

The discussion arose ahead of November’s World Cup which is due to be hosted in Qatar. The tournament has been the centre of much controversy due to the country’s human rights issues, including its treatment of LGBTQ+ people.

Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, punishable by imprisonment and even death under Sharia law. Despite organisers ensuring that queer people are welcome at the event, many are boycotting the World Cup in support of LGBTQ+ and other vulnerable minorities’ rights.

Although Lineker’s comments were presumably made in good faith, activists have warned that they may add pressure to players who are already struggling.

“We know that for many years the tabloid newspapers in particular have reported on the topic of gay and bisexual male footballers in a way that is largely unhelpful and doesn’t actually lead to that increased visibility in this part of sport,” Jon Holmes, founder of Sports Media LGBT+ told PinkNews.

“It’s often done in a way that is speculative, invites gossip on social media, and doesn’t deal with the reasons why these players don’t feel comfortable being visible,” Holmes added.

“It kind of reduces that whole process that’s an intense part of somebody’s journey, somebody’s life, into something that becomes the subject of internet gossip.”

While the advocate did not want to discourage Lineker from speaking out in support of LGBTQ+ footballers, he said: “We need to talk about these things in the right context and in a way that is constructive.”

Presenter of The BBC’s LGBT Sports podcasts, Jack Murley, also weighed in on the discussion on Twitter, saying: “Anyone who has ever come out knows the only thing that matters is doing it when you’re ready.

“Not because people think you should, or because it provides a nice counterpoint to a World Cup being held where LGBTQ+ people are persecuted.”

He continued: “I honestly believe the intention here was good – and that this was a genuine attempt at allyship.

“But for years, the LGBTQ+ community has been explaining why speculating about people ‘on the verge of coming out’ is massively unhelpful.

“Somehow, that’s still not getting across.”

Gary Lineker responded to Murley’s Twitter thread, saying “obviously my intentions were honourable, but I’ve read your thread and take on board your concerns. Thanks for sharing.”

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