Britain’s first openly gay football referee has said that homophobic abuse should be treated like racism.
Ryan Atkin said anyone found shouting homophobic abusive at football matches should be dealt with as severely as if they were making racist remarks.
Ryan appeared on Lorraine yesterday to discuss homophobia in the sport, before he officiated at his first match last night since publicly coming out, and viewers praised him for being an “inspiring role model”.
The 32-year-old came gave an interview to Sky Sports last week, and became the first openly gay professional working in English football.
Talking to stand-in host Christine Lampard, Ryan said: “I think football is a very specific sport. I think it will change gradually over time as we evolve as a society and create an environment where people can be themselves.
“I think from a general perception outside of the referring community if people are making homophobic remarks it should be treated the same as racist remarks.
“And people should be removed from grounds and they should receive bans because it’s exactly the same,” he added.
“Why it’s not dealt with the same we don’t know yet, but we will get there eventually.
“When you’ve got someone shouting homophobic abuse you have to remember that child could be LGBT, you’re not just directing it on the field of play and there are children in the stands.”
Viewers couldn’t wait to message him with positive comments.
One said: “Thought you were excellent this morning. Made me proud to be gay x”.
Another said that Ryan was ‘brave’ to speak out.
“A third called him “such an inspiring amazing role model”.
Ryan will referee games by himself in National League North and South this season, and will also act as the fourth official in Football League matches.
He said that while his friends and family already knew he was gay, he had decided to come out publicly because of his promotion.
And he admitted he was nervous about taking to the pitch tonight, but had received support from people all over the country and the world on social media.
Former Manchester United and England star Phil Neville is just one footballer who has praised Ryan for coming out.
“Role models are important to show that being gay and being interested in football are by no means mutually exclusive,” Ryan said, in his interview with Sky Sports.
“Homophobia is still a problem but things are improving all the time. You can change the game and culture by changing your mind.
“Referees get a lot of stick for a number of reasons but their sexual orientation cannot be one of them.”
Speaking with Christine, who is married to former England captain Frank Lampard, Ryan explained: “Referees can have a positive impact on football and make sure people are included in the game.
“It’s a really interesting career to take but it’s good fun as well. There’s a different part of the sport people don’t always see.”