At least 20 football stars are gay and “afraid” to come out, a top club’s ex-director claims.
But David Haigh believes that if all went public “as a group” fans would accept them. He was openly gay during a spell as Leeds United MD in 2013-14 and says many homosexual players confided in him as a result.
“Twenty is a fair number in my view, though probably a gross under-estimate,” he said.
“They are still playing, in the Premier League and Championship, but I won’t mention names as a witch hunt helps no one.
“Young stars advertise brands with sponsors and being gay is still seen as a handicap.
“To be suddenly known for their sexuality would be unsettling.
“But football needs them to go public. Those who did would be brave – but they’d get a lot of support.”
The last top player to come out, Justin Fashanu, faced widespread abuse in the 1990s.
But Mr Haigh said: “I believe things have changed massively since then.
“I also think supporting gay players would be very beneficial to a club commercially.”
He stressed his Leeds United connection did not mean he was talking about players at that club.
He spoke out after Belgium defender Carl Hoefkens told how he had played with two Premier League footballers who were gay but publicly ‘in the closet’.
Mr Haigh was openly gay with board members and fans at Elland Road, and says many gay players confided in him as a result.
“When Robbie Rogers was launching an anti-discriminatory charity, we supported him at Leeds,” he explained.
“We teamed up with [campaigning group] Stonewall and created an environment where people felt safe in coming out.
“There are many people, including players and agents, who approached me and 20 is a fair number in my view.”
American star Rogers got a standing ovation at Elland Road after he came out and Mr Haigh believes the vast majority of fans would accept a player’s sexuality.
“I wanted a group to come out together,” he added. “My figure on the number of gay players is probably a gross under estimate.
“That is from my experience. They are still playing, in the Premier League, and the Championship.
“When people feel safe, they will confide in you.”
Some top stars are open about being gay with team mates, but feel too scared to tell their fans, Mr Haigh claims.
“Footballers are not hiding it from the people they know,” he added.
“They go to gay bars and they do not hide their partners. Let’s say hypothetically there were situations where players were facing rumours about their sexuality in the press and they came to me and asked for help.
“In those cases, we would have discussed ways forward.”