Football's governing bodies have been told that gay players should be supported with being open about their sexuality.
Following a Staffordshire University survey of more than 3,500 fans, players, referees and other officials, it was found that most respondents believe clubs and agents are unfairly pressuring gay players into silence.
The findings from the TopFan survey have now been passed to the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), Footballers Association (FA), Premier League and Football League.
Professor Ellis Cashmore and Dr Jamie Cleland, the researchers behind the survey, also made recommendations to the sport’s governing bodies.
These include: giving a clearer message on the issue of gay players in football and setting up more support for gay players so they do not feel pressured to stay silent.
We’re advising football’s leading organisations not simply to parrot more platitudes about their opposition to homophobia, but to show how they will approve and encourage more openness in the game.
It is inconceivable that, out of an estimated 500,000 professional players around the world, not one is gay. The truth is that football culture is prohibitive: gay players have neither the confidence nor the inclination to come out.
Our conclusion is that this is not a healthy condition for football and our concern is that football is, in this sense, out of tune with the rest of the sporting world.
The survey found that 30 percent of football professionals know gay players currently in the game. But 84 percent of respondents felt that there is pressure on gay players to stay silent.
Also, 91 percent of respondents believe that only a player’s performance on the pitch is relevant. While only 9 percent oppose gay players.
Professor Cashmore said:
The survey reveals a new and surprising image of football culture, which has been characterised as stuck in the dark ages and “steeped in homophobia.
The reality is quite the opposite; both fans and professionals are embarrassed by this and are actually hopeful that, like practically every other major sport, including rugby, gay players come forward.
Dr Cleland, a former Coventry City goalkeeper and still a PFA member, added:
Fans think that gay players are urged by their agents and their clubs not to disclose their homosexuality. Fans say they are too often blamed, but over 90% say there is no place for homophobia in football.
One of the problems that face gay players is whether they can count on the full support of the PFA.