The niece of Justin Fashanu has told Sky News that a man who claims he is about to come out as a gay professional footballer could "pave the way" for more players to disclose their sexuality.
But Amal Fashanu said she had doubts about the authenticity of the anonymous Twitter user known as The Gay Footballer, and warned it could be detrimental to tackling homophobia in football if it turned out to be a hoax.
Fashanu made a 2012 documentary about her uncle Justin, Britain’s first and only openly gay male professional footballer who killed himself in 1998.
Now a man, who claims to be a gay footballer under the age of 23 playing for a Championship club, says he will reveal his identity in the next two weeks, before the start of the new season.
Sky News has spoken to the purported player – who has already gained more than 31,000 Twitter followers – but we have not been able to verify whether his claims are true.
He says he understands the scepticism surrounding him but insists he is genuine.
Fashanu told Sky News: I’m very curious to know whether it’s actually real or not because creating a fake account, whether you’re a person or organisation, I think, is going to be detrimental.
We’re all trying to raise awareness, I’ve been trying to do it for the past 10 years… creating a fake account, I feel, is actually going to mess it all up. It’s almost like mocking it in a way.
In my mind I’m just hoping and thinking this person should be real, better be real… potentially it looks like it could be real but I’ve got my doubts.
In a phone interview with Sky News, the purported footballer said: I get the scepticism… I fully accept that.
If it was me that came across an account like mine, I’d be sceptical as well, it’s human nature.
Until people have got a name and a face behind the account, there’s always going to be that.
My identity, at this point, I’m not prepared to disclose until such time that I’m ready but it will happen – it just has to be in my own time.
I give my word it’s genuine, I give my word that this is my intention and I agree, if it wasn’t, you’ve got the potential then to have a detrimental impact on those that would be prepared to at least consider coming out publicly.
Fashanu, whose father is former Wimbledon striker John Fashanu, said it was a pathetic situation that no active professional male footballers in Britain had felt able to come out as gay since her 2012 documentary about her late uncle.
She said she knew of a lot of gay footballers in the professional game and having a gay player being open about their sexuality would encourage more to come out.
Living a lie is just not a way to live. It’s being oppressed, she said.
If this guy is actually real, I think he’s going to pave the way for so many other footballers who might be feeling the same way.
Asked if she feared a repeat of her uncle’s tragedy, Fashanu said: I don’t think that any footballer now would come out and then the next minute commit suicide because I don’t think the pressure would be like that anymore.
We’re not back in the 90s, things have moved on, and whether there is an openly gay footballer or not right now, things are changing, we’re raising awareness and people are more accepting.
In a statement posted on The Gay Footballer Twitter account earlier this month, the purported player said he had recently come out as gay to his family and had since revealed his sexuality to his manager and club chairman.
I sought advice from both men regarding the fact that I not only want to, but will, come out publicly as a proud, confident gay professional footballer, the statement said.
As it currently stands, once I have taken the time to give full consideration to how and when I am to make it public, a press conference will be organised by the club, with invitations to be made in due course to both local and national press.
While the tweets have received a largely positive response, the account holder has flagged up some homophobic abuse aimed at him since it was opened.
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(c) Sky News 2019: Justin Fashanu’s niece: I hope gay footballer set to come out isn’t a hoax