About 80% of U.K. football fans say gay players would have a
positive effect on the sport in the same way black players helped
ease racism in the 1980s and 1990s.
Fifty-two percent of fans cited Welsh rugby union captain Gareth Thomas's coming out as a catalyst for changing attitudes, according to The Guardian newspaper. However, no football players have come out since Justin Fashanu, who told fans and fellow athletes he was gay in 1990. His career was forced to an end after backlash and abuse, and Fashanu committed suicide in 1998.
Of the professional players, coaches, and managers, and referees polled, one third said athletes who came out would face abuse. Less than 10% of fans questioned expressed homophobia, and said they resented the liberalization of attitudes supporting gay athletes.
The University of Staffordshire poll questioned 3,000 people just as the world celebrated the month-long global tradition that is the FIFA World Cup. Ellis Cashmore, Staffordshire professor of culture, media, and sport, said fans care mostly about the player's athleticism and not his or her sexual orientation.
"One fan told us: 'I'd rather have a gay player who can play than a straight one who can't.' And this is a typical view, not just from supporters but from everyone associated with football," Cashmore said.