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French professional footballer Antoine Griezmann says gay players remain “afraid” to come out, despite increased efforts to promote tolerance and diversity in the sport.

Griezmann, who plays forward for Spanish club Atlético Madrid as well as the French national team, said players remained worried about facing a backlash from fans that could lead to abuse during matches.

He told El Pais: “Players do not come out of the closet because they are afraid. We have to appear hard and strong but we are afraid of what people will say about us.”

The 26-year-old added that he would have no problem sharing a locker room with a gay player himself, saying: “I have nothing against anyone, I respect everybody.”

Asked if he himself would come out if he was gay, Griezmann replied: “I think I would but of course that’s easier said when you do not have to go through it.

“There are a lot of bad people in football and players can be afraid to go to stadiums and get abused.”

Despite the decision of many high profile sportsmen including Tom Daley, Gus Kenworthy, Gareth Thomas and Keegan Hirst to come out in recent years, the top European football leagues are yet to see a player come out.

Former Leeds United player Robbie Rogers came out as he announced his retirement from the sport in 2013, before later making a return to the game in his home country of the US.  In 2014, German former Aston Villa Thomas Hitzlsperger, came out as gay in retirement.

Former Leeds United player Robbie Rogers came out in 2013, before making a return to the game in the US leagues.

Back in March, Bournemouth FC’s Eddie Howe became the first Premier League manager to go on the record to say he’d be happy to have a gay footballer on his team.

In an exclusive interview with Winq magazine, the former Portsmouth and Bournemouth player said he would sign an openly gay player “without hesitation”.

“The first player to come out in the Premier League era will be defining, it will be a real breakthrough moment,” he said. “And I think when that happens other players will follow suit.”

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