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Players asked to support anti-homophobia drive

By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) - Professional players across Britain will be asked to wear rainbow-colored laces in their boots next weekend in support of a campaign to tackle homophobia in soccer.

Of the 5,000 or so players across the top leagues in England, Scotland and Wales none are openly gay, leading gay rights charity Stonewall to suggest that players are afraid to 'come out' because of the impact it could have on their careers.

Bookmakers Paddy Power are supporting the campaign which has the slogan "Right Behind Gay Footballers". Sets of rainbow-colored laces will be distributed to the 134 professional clubs in Britain.

Attitudes in British soccer, whether it be at elite level or Sunday morning park leagues, are notoriously slow to change and Stonewall's deputy chief executive Laura Doughty said it was time the game was "dragged into the 21st Century".

"It's time for football clubs and players to step up and make a visible stand against homophobia in our national game," she said in a statement launching the week-long push.

"By wearing rainbow laces players will send a message of support to gay players."

Homophobia is still rife, according to a report compiled earlier this year by Brighton and Hove Albion's Supporters' Club and the Gay Football Supporters' Network.

The coastal city of Brighton has one of Britain's largest gay communities, leading to regular homophobic abuse from opposing fans during matches.

The report said Brighton fans had been subjected to homophobic abuse at 70 percent of away fixtures.

"Brighton fans have been the subject of "banter" about the city's gay community for as long as many of our fans can remember," a statement from the Brighton Supporters' Club said in April.

"It wouldn't be described as "banter" if the taunts and chants were about skin color and something would have been done by now to stop it."

In March, former Leeds United player Robbie Rogers said he was stepping back from the game after coming out as gay, saying he feared "judgment and rejection".

Three months later, Rogers became the first openly gay athlete to compete in a major U.S. professional team when the midfielder played for Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Clare Fallon)

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