A former England professional football player has claimed that he knows of 12 top current players who are gay but remain in the closet.

Paul Elliott said they are reluctant to come out because they fear negative reactions.

Elliott, who now advises the Equality and Human Rights Commission, was speaking at ‘Homophobia – Football’s Final Taboo’; a forum organised by the Kick It Out campaign and hosted by England’s Football Association (FA) at its Soho Square headquarters on October 16.

BBC sports reporter and commentator, Bob Ballard, who chaired the event, criticised the FA and Chelsea for allowing the appointment of Phil Scolari as Chelsea manager. Mr Scolari has said he would never have a gay player on his team, which is against the FA’s equal treatment rules.

Accusing the FA of double standards, Mr Ballard said that if Scolari had said he would kick out black or Jewish players he would have never been appointed at Chelsea.

Another speaker at the event, gay human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, said: “The Football Association has great equality policies on paper but it often fails to put them into practice. It’s time to turn the FA’s opposition to anti-gay prejudice into action and give homophobia the boot.”

The FA is backing a new Kick It Out campaign against homophobia. Kick It Out, which has long campaigned against racism in football, has broadened its remit to spearhead the new anti-homophobia initiative under the theme of ‘One Game, One Community.’

Kick It Out’s Director, Piara Powar, said that, “We’ve been campaigning to rid our game of discrimination. We’ve made significant headway; black players are everywhere and ethnic minority communities are getting involved, whether they are on the pitch or in the stands. However, there are still no openly gay players and casual abuse of many players has homophobic overtones.”

The issue of homophobia in football has been brought into the spotlight by the recent anti-gay abuse directed against Portsmouth’s star player and England International, Sol Campbell.

The wave of homophobic chants by Spurs’ fans at the Tottenham – Portsmouth match at Fratton Park on 28 September included:

“Sol, Sol, wherever you may be / You’re on the verge of lunacy / And we don’t give a f**k if you’re hanging from a tree / You Judas c**t with HIV.”

“He’s big, he’s black. He takes it up his crack. Sol Campbell, Sol Campbell.”

At the meeting, Tatchell won general approval when he urged the FA to adopt his proposed plan to stamp out homophobia.

The plan included producing ‘MTV-style’ videos in which popular straight players condemn homophobia; including anti-homophobia messages on tickets, match programmes and billboards; as well as urging several gay premier league players to jointly come out as part of a managed process.

“Bigotry has no legitimate place in any sport. Homophobia is no more acceptable than racism. We want all prejudice kicked off the pitch. Congratulations to Kick It Out and the Football Association for taking a stand against homophobia,” said Tatchell.

Justin Fashanu remains the only professional footballer to ever have come out as gay in the UK. He committed suicide eight years later in 1998 at the age of 37.

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