Ryan Atkin becomes first openly gay professional official in English football

Ryan Atkin has become England’s first openly gay professional official, with the English Football Association welcoming the 32-year-old’s revelation of his sexuality as a landmark sign of progress.

“Ryan’s declaration marks an important moment in the game and reinforces the fact that refereeing really is open to everyone,” Neale Barry, the FA head of senior referee development, said. “He believes people who are happy in their own skin perform better and I couldn’t agree more. Our role is to support all referees, aid their development, maximise their potential and, above all, help ensure their experiences are positive.”

Atkin will take charge of games in the National League North and South this season, as well as operating as a fourth official in Football League games. He has already performed as a referee’s assistant in EFL matches including the Championship but wishes to further his career by gaining the necessary experience of officiating games on his own, and hopes his public declaration will encourage others in the sport to follow his example.

“Role models are important to show that being gay and being interested in football are by no means mutually exclusive,” Atkin told 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.

“I myself have never been a victim of homophobic abuse but I am aware others have been. The biggest challenge I might face in the future as an openly gay referee would potentially be dealing with homophobia that could come from players, spectators and possibly even refereeing colleagues, though so far I have found officials within football to be very open-minded. It’s something the game can be proud of.”

English football has lagged behind other sports and countries in promoting gay referees, although Nigel Owens, the Welsh rugby official who came out in 2007, and Jesús Tomillero, the Spanish referee who received death threats last year after revealing his sexuality, have not always found the onward path a smooth one.

“Being gay doesn’t matter in the context of refereeing a football match,” Atkin said. “But if I am speaking about equality and diversity then I am going to mention that I am gay because it is relevant. It is important to be who you want to be, and to be accepted for who you are.”

Mike Riley, the managing director of the referees’ body PGMOL, praised the enthusiasm and commitment Atkin had shown in his progress as an official. “With the continued support of the FA and PGMOL coaches, he has a great opportunity to realise his ambitions to referee in the EFL and the Premier League,” Riley said. “We are proud to support him in emphasising that in whatever walk of life, people perform better when they can be themselves, which is a hugely powerful message.”

From The Guardian

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