The right time to come out

Football Association chairman Greg Clarke has spoken to gay footballers and suggested the idea of a group of players coming out together.

Clarke said last year that he “wouldn’t recommend” a footballer coming out at the moment because of the risk they would be abused, but believes several players sharing the spotlight could be the answer.

“I put the message out there that if a number of top-level pros want to come out, why don’t we synchronise it? So one person doesn’t have to come out on their own,” he said in an interview with The Times.

“The Premier League, the Football League and the FA could do it at the start of the season. At the start of the season everybody thinks it is their season, the crowds are happy, the sun is shining. I was asked (recently) if football is ready for top-level pros to come out and I said I’m not sure we were.

“There was a survey which said people would support gay people in their own team, yes, but I’m worried about what they said about gay people in the other team, not that they would do bad things, but I said we should prepare well.

“I’ve been asking the gay community, ‘How can we provide more support and orchestrate it so that people get the right level of support if people want to be open about their sexuality?’. I’ve met 15 gay sports people in the last four weeks to ask their views, including footballers.

“It is very difficult to get to a representative set of gay top-level footballers because some of them are happy with their sexuality and just don’t want anyone to know. I don’t want to be part of a process that says, ‘You’ve got to come out’. That’s not right. People are cautious. It’s a one-way street. Once you’re out of the closet, you’re out.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Clarke also spoke about the possibility of the next England manager coming from the BAME community.

“I can see a black England manager,” he said.

Asked in particular about Brighton boss Chris Hughton, who was born in London and played for the Republic of Ireland, Clarke replied: “Why not? It would be wonderful to see a black England manager. It would put us forward 20 years.”

He continued: “We are trying to achieve more opportunities. When I talked to Football League owners about this, I said ‘How do you appoint managers?’ (They said): ‘I talk to my mates, ex-players, ex-managers.’

“‘Who are they?’ ‘White’. Their friends are white.

“‘Does that mean it would be difficult to get on your radar if you’re black?’ ‘I hadn’t thought about that.’

“It wasn’t conscious racism. But there was a realisation that, ‘S***, we have a system that is systematically biased against black people unintentionally’.”

Clarke, meanwhile, remains optimistic about introducing a winter break into the Premier League season, but reckons England can win a major title even without one.

“I am hopeful about a winter break,” he said. “It would be good for player welfare. Tired players getting injured is not morally right.

“You can get to two weeks by getting rid of a few replays, moving a few things to midweek, but medical stats show two weeks is not enough. It has to be three or four weeks to make a difference. That knocks a hell of a hole in the season.

“I think we can win a tournament without a winter break. England probably should be a consistent top-10 performer in the world, occasionally being a top-four performer, becoming a top one or two performer.”

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