“I hope that my action, however small, will help give others in a similar situation the confidence to be themselves.”
32 Year-Old Ryan Atkin has become English Football’s first openly gay referee. The Football Association have welcomed Atkin’s openness about his sexuality. In a statement Neale Barry, the FA head of senior referee development, responded to Atkin’s news by saying:
“Ryan’s declaration marks an important moment in the game and reinforces the fact that refereeing really is open to everyone. He believes people who are happy in their own skin perform better and I couldn’t agree more. Our role is to support all referees, aid their development, maximise their potential and, above all, help ensure their experiences are positive.”
Up until now, there have been no openly gay referees or players in the Premiere League. Ultimately, LGBT representation in the sport is lacking. When asked about potential homophobia from fans, Atkins responded:
“Ryan’s story underlines just how important it is that there are allies who are willing to stand up for LGBT inclusion at all levels of sport.”
“Homophobia is still a problem, but things are improving all the time. You can change the game and culture when you change your mind – and those who do need education generally change their ways once they’ve been made aware that their behaviour is unacceptable in society.”
While Atkin has spoken openly about the personal significance of his coming out, he has said that it is “more for the game itself, where we are in football and what is happening in the world”.
Having backed Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces Campaign, which promotes inclusion in football, Atkin received support from the head of the campaign, Robbie de Santos: “We’re so pleased Ryan Atkin feels able to be open about his sexuality. Ryan’s story underlines just how important it is that there are allies who are willing to stand up for LGBT inclusion at all levels of sport.”
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