Ryan Atkin: Being first openly gay official is 'significant' for football

Ryan Atkin
Ryan Atkin will take on fourth official duties in the football league this season

Becoming the first openly gay professional official in English football is a "significant" moment for the sport, says Ryan Atkin.

Atkin will referee games in National League North and South this season - the sixth tier of English football.

The 32-year-old will also act as fourth official in Football League matches.

"It's significant personally but more for the game itself, where we are in football and what is happening in the world," Atkin told BBC Radio 5 live.

A report published by the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee in February said sport is not doing enough to tackle homophobic abuse.

In October, a BBC Radio 5 live survey found 8% of football fans would stop watching their team if a gay player was signed by the club.

"I was slightly concerned regarding the fans and the general public but it's been extremely positive so far and probably better than I predicted," said Atkin.

"There will always be some negative or homophobic comments - especially on social media.

"But that just goes to strengthen the need for positive messages and show lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are involved in the sport, whether they are out or not."

There are no openly gay professional male players in British football.

Football Association chairman Greg Clarke was criticised last year for saying he "wouldn't recommend" a player coming out yet as they would still suffer "significant abuse".

"Within any sport, there will be gay people, but it is a choice for them to decide to come out and in the LGBT community we do not pressure people to come out," added Atkin.

"If those people do choose to, then they have our full support."

The FA's head of senior referee development, ex-Premier League referee Neale Barry, said the organisation was offering its "full backing" to Atkin.

"Our role is to support all referees, aid their development, maximise their potential and, above all, help ensure their experiences are positive," said Barry.

"Ryan's declaration marks an important moment in the game and reinforces the fact that refereeing really is open to everyone.

"He's stated that people who are happy in their own skin perform better and I couldn't agree more."

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