David Beckham, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo are among the big names of English football who will be asked to speak out against homophobia in a video to be screened at grounds, including Wembley, and in schools around the country, with the aim to "kick anti-gay prejudice off the pitch and out of the terraces".
Peter Tatchell, of the gay rights group Outrage!, has persuaded the Football Association and the Professional Footballers Association to guarantee around £20,000 of funding towards the project, and he said yesterday that he believes the video might also encourage some gay players to come out.
"I know of a group of gay footballers who would not feel comfortable coming out at the moment," Tatchell said. "This video might be the precursor to that happening, and if it's well received, I suspect it will give some players the confidence to think about coming out."
There have been a few openly gay football executives, most famously Elton John, and there is one openly gay FA Councillor, Peter Clayton, of the Middlesex FA. But the only openly gay professional player in the British game in living memory was Justin Fashanu, who endured years of abuse about his sexuality before committing suicide in 1998.
Tatchell approached the FA with the idea about an anti-homophobia video in the wake of anti-gay chants aimed at high-profile footballers including Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole. An FA spokesman confirmed yesterday that the governing body, along with the PFA and Kick It Out, the anti-racist campaign, will fund the project, for which an advertising agency is being sought. The video will be released later this year. The FA will encourage its screening at grounds, including Wembley during England matches.
Tatchell praised the FA for backing the video. He added: "The plan is to feature big-name stars speaking out against homophobia, in order to make anti-gay chants look as stupid, ignorant and uncool as racist ones.
"Our wish-list of participating football stars includes David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rio Ferdinand, Peter Crouch, David James, Wayne Rooney, John Terry, Frank Lampard, Theo Walcott and Michael Owen.
"We're pressing the FA to get this video broadcast on TV and at matches on the giant stadium screens. We also want the FA to put it on YouTube and distribute copies to every school in the country."