Ryan Atkin, the UK's first 'out' professional football referee, has shared his story

Thursday 10 Aug 2017
English referee Ryan Atkin is the first openly gay official in the professional game

Ryan Atkin will be the first openly gay professional referee officiating in the English Football League this season.

The 32-year-old will take charges of games in the National League North and South this term as well as fourth official duties in the EFL and National League.

And Atkin believes the commitment and support of The FA, Premier League, EFL and PGMOL (the match officials body) to create a more inclusive environment in the sport for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people should be applauded.

Ryan's declaration marks an important moment in the game
- Neale Barry, FA head of senior referee development

“The commitments on LGBT inclusion from The FA, Premier League and EFL have been crucial,” Atkin told Sky Sports.

“FA chairman Greg Clarke and PL executive director Bill Bush have recently made positive comments which go some way towards tackling issues in the modern game.

“With upcoming international tournaments taking place in countries where being gay is a crime or where people are being persecuted for their sexuality, it's more important than ever that governing bodies, major organisations and brands continue to support and sponsor campaigns that promote equality for all.”

Ryan began refereeing in his hometown of Plymouth in 1999 and was first promoted to Football League duties as an assistant referee in 2009, running the line in various fixtures - including Championship matches - before stepping down from those duties at the end of the 2015-16 campaign in order to follow the main referee career path.

And by contributing to the ongoing conversations around LGBT inclusion in sport, Atkin hopes to inspire others who may fear their sexuality or gender identity is a barrier to participation, to get more involved.

"Being gay doesn't matter in the context of refereeing a match but if I'm speaking about equality and diversity, then I'm going to mention that I'm gay because it's relevant," he added.

Ryan Atkin will be taking charge of games in the National League this season

"Homophobia is still a problem, but things are improving all the time.

"Undoubtedly, there has been good progress since I first started refereeing. I'd now like to see players and referees themselves used to inspire greater inclusion, and to promote thinking differently. That increased effort can go a long way in reaching even more communities."

Neale Barry, head of senior referee development at The FA and a former official himself, was pleased to see Atkin’s determination and courage at coming out.

“The FA offers its full backing to Ryan,” he said.

“Our role is to support all referees, aid their development, maximise their potential and, above all, help ensure their experiences are positive.

“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.”

By FA Staff