A Vanarama National League North and South referee believes becoming the first openly gay professional official is a “significant” moment for the game.
Ryan Atkin will perform duties as a fourth official in the Football League and National League throughout the season, but will officiate games in non-league’s second tier.
At the moment there are no openly game professional players, and Atkin has been pleased with the reaction since he revealed that he was gay.
Speaking to Radio Five Live he said “It’s significant personally but more for the game itself, where we are in football and what is happening in the world
“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.
“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.”
Atkin began refereeing in 1999 and was promoted to the Football League as an assistant referee in 2009.
He stepped down from those duties at the end of the 2015/16 season to focus on main refereeing duties.
Atkin stressed that his decision to come out was not made in the hope that it could lead to other gay players or officials coming out.
Instead he stated that it is a personal choice, but he stressed that they would receive “full support” from the LGBT community shoudl they choose to do so.
“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,”
“If those people do choose to, then they have our full support.”
Atkin’s decision to come out has been described as an “important moment in the game” by the FA’s Head of Senior Referee Development Neale Barry.
The former Premier League official also stated that the FA will give Atkin their full support.
He said “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.”
Article: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)
Image: Reuters Media