Sports minister Tracey Crouch has insisted gay footballers should be encouraged and supported to come out, describing reported comments from the Football Association chairman as “unhelpful”.
The Tory frontbencher added that, while the FA has made progress, it should remember it is there to support footballers.
FA chairman Greg Clarke was recently reported as saying he “wouldn’t recommend” a player coming out at the moment because of the risk they would be abused.
Appearing before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in October, Clarke told MPs he was “ashamed” of the game’s homophobia and recognised the governing body must do more to tackle this “vile abuse”.
He noted a vocal minority in grounds and on social media currently make it “impossible” for a leading player to come out as gay.
Clarke also told MPs: “I can’t give you enough of a commitment as to how much I hate that behaviour – it needs stamping out.
“I’m just cautious about advising people to come out until we’ve done our job.”
SNP MP Hannah Bardell (Livingston), speaking on Thursday in the Commons, said: “When the chairman of the English FA said it was not the time for gay footballers to come out in the male Premier League, he shamed himself and he shamed football.”
She added to Crouch: “Do you agree with me that these comments are wholly unacceptable and the FA and Premier League clubs in England should follow the example of Scotland, who with the equality network have developed an LGBT sports charter, and will you work with me and others to take that forward?”
Crouch replied: “The reported comments are indeed unhelpful and we should be encouraging and supporting people in all sports who wish to come out.
“We need to make sure we use existing legislation to stop homophobic chanting and language during sporting events.
“I know the FA is working hard on trying to support people within the game and progress has been made in tackling homophobia and we need to perhaps consider other means of doing this as well.
“But supporting players is absolutely essential.”
Shadow sports minister Rosena Allin-Khan said no professional footballer in England has come out since Justin Fashanu took his own life in 1998.
She told Crouch: “The FA chair has admitted recently that the FA is still not doing enough to tackle homophobic abuse.
“Homophobia is rife and has been for far too long.
“How are you and the Government working with the FA to tackle homophobia at every level, from Sunday league to Premier League?”
Crouch replied: “I think that there has been progress in the Football Association, there can always be more to be done, and it’s important that the Football Association remembers that they are there as the national governing body to support footballers.
“Our own strategy sets out a cross-government vision for sport and will encourage more tolerance – that’s at every single level of all sports, including grassroots and Premier League football.”
Openly homosexual footballers are a rarity in the game with only former Aston Villa star Thomas Hitzlsperger and ex-Leeds United winger Robbie Rogers ‘coming out’.