Steven Davies praises Ashes teammates after coming out
Colleagues and gay rights campaigners have welcomed the decision by Surrey and England cricketer Steven Davies to come out as gay.
But campaigners warned that football risked being shown up in failing to create an environment that made it easier for top players to follow the examples of Gareth Thomas in rugby and Davies in cricket in coming out while they were still playing.
Davies, part of England's Ashes-winning squad this winter, said it was a massive relief to be able to talk openly about his sexuality. The 24-year-old wicketkeeper was praised for addressing the issue so early in his career.
"What he has done is remarkable," said John Amaechi, who was born in the US but brought up in Britain and became the first gay former NBA basketball player to speak openly about his sexuality, in February 2007.
"As someone prepared for the shift it makes in the way people perceive you and prepared to be a role model, I think it's truly laudable. To be so young and to do this is a radical and important step.
"I don't think cricket has by any means mastered all its issues of bigotry. But his team has obviously done something very right. That's not the case for every person and every sport, as we know."
Davies, who did not make England's World Cup squad, told his teammates and management that he was homosexual before the Ashes and has now made it public.
"This is the right time for me," he said. "I'm comfortable with who I am – and happy to say who I am in public. I feel it is right to be out in the open about my sexuality. If more people do it, the more acceptable it will become. That must be a good thing.
"To speak out is a massive relief for me. If I can just help one person to deal with their sexuality, then that's all I care about."
Davies publicly praised his teammates and management, in particular Andrew Strauss and Matt Prior, and the England team director Andy Flower, for the way they had handled the situation.
Flower said: "I would like to make it very clear that Steve is first and foremost a very talented cricketer and a valued member of the England setup.
"His private life is his own concern and has absolutely no bearing on his ability to excel at the very highest level in international sport and I have no doubt that he will continue to work hard to regain a place in the England squad."
Thomas, who became the most high- profile gay team sportsman when he came out in a newspaper interview in December 2009, said on Twitter that Davies "can live his life now, and also help others live theirs. Good on him. It shouldn't matter, and one day it won't."
The former Wales rugby union captain, who has now turned to rugby league, was credited by Davies with inspiring him to make a public statement in the hope it would provide support to others.
Former world cycling champion Graeme Obree revealed he was gay four weeks ago but the Scot said then he did not think he would have been able to do so while he was still competing.
"Even in a sport like cycling, which tends to attract loners, there's quite a macho dressing-room culture. You learn to be macho, to fit in. If I had known I was gay back then I don't think I could have survived coming out," he said.
Justin Fashanu, the former Norwich City and England forward who died in 1998, was the first and – to date – only British professional footballer to come out.
A spokesman for the Justin Campaign, a pressure group that recently organised an international Football v Homophobia day, praised the way governing bodies in cricket and rugby had supported their players.
He said: "It is showing up football in that Gareth Thomas and Steven Davies are able to come out. We don't even seem to be close in football. It is positive that there is more of a debate but we seem a long way behind other sports."
Ian Bell, the England batsman, said sexuality was "absolutely not" a taboo issue in his sport.
"I can't speak for other teams and other sports but for us as a group, it didn't affect anything for Steve or any of the other lads. It helped him by speaking to the guys and, we just got on with it," Bell said. "He's a fantastic cricketer and we are all with him. He is a good mate of mine and that doesn't change absolutely anything."
Chris Basiurski, chair of the Gay Football Supporters Network, also said football could learn from cricket.
"This is a great opportunity for the world to embrace a openly gay professional sportsman and so we welcome Steven Davies's decision to come out and commend him for having the courage to do so at an early stage in his career," he said.
"We hope that many important lessons can be learned in the footballing community so that, one day, we may be celebrating the coming out of a player in the sport we love."
Amaechi said there was increasingly a more enlightened attitude in the stands, but it was often a different story in the boardroom and the directors' box .
"For a lot of fans and a lot of athletes it's just a non-issue. But among governing bodies and among some of the sporting bigwigs, those attitudes have not really changed – about women, let alone black people and gay people," he said.
Lord Herman Ouseley, chair of the anti-racism group Kick It Out that held an event on homophobia in football last week, said he was convinced the necessary support structures were in place.
"We echo the positive sentiments of Steve's friends and colleagues. Being open and honest about one's identity is vital in any walk of life," he said. "We are confident that when a footballer again takes this step, the game has the appropriate support structures in place."
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