Ryan Atkin Is First Openly Gay In Football
THE first openly gay referee in the UK Ryan Atkin has said being “out” should hold no fears in football.
The 32-year-old says his decision to share his story – described as “an important moment” for the sport by the Football Association’s Head of Senior Referee Development, Neale Barry – has been prompted by the recent strengthening of commitments made by the game’s governing bodies to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusion.
The match official – who will be undertaking fourth official duties in the EFL and National Leagues in 2017-18 – began refereeing in 1999 in his home town, Plymouth.
Atkin believes being open about his own sexuality will help to demonstrate the campaign’s impact in football, saying to all involved in the game: “Be who you want to be, and accept someone for who they are.”
Atkin told Sky Sport: “Being gay doesn’t matter in the context of refereeing a football match.
“But if I’m speaking about equality and diversity, then I’m going to mention that I’m gay because it’s relevant.
“Homophobia is still a problem, but things are improving all the time.
“You can change the game and culture when you change your mind.
Atkin added that pro-LGBTcampaigns in recent seasons have been hugely encouraging, saying: “Undoubtedly, there has been good progress since I first started refereeing.
“The Rainbow Laces campaign has been hugely important.
“There is a growing number of club LGBT fan groups, and major sports brands such as adidas and Nike are helping to deliver the same message to wider audiences across the globe.
“I’d now like to see more players and referees helping to promote inclusion.
“That increased effort can go a long way in reaching even more communities.”
For those who are already refereeing in football or who would like to officiate in the future, and who are LGBT, Atkin is optimistic about the benefits of them being open about their sexuality.
“People who are happy in their own skin at work will perform better as a result; the same is true of professional sport,” he says. “The best referees are the ones that bring their whole self to the match, officiating with their personality and ultimately improving their ability to get the decisions right.”
Meanwhile, Neale Barry – head of senior referee development at the FA – described Atkin’s comments as “an important moment”.
Barry claimed: “The FA offers its full backing to Ryan.
“Our role is to support all referees, aid their development, maximise their potential and, above all, help ensure their experiences are positive.
“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.”
EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey added: “The courageous decision taken by Ryan to publicly come out is one that should be admired by everyone across all levels of the game.