Joe’s Crow Country

STEVEN Davies and Gareth Thomas should be hailed as groundbreakers in sport for coming out as gay.

Cricketer Davies, a member of England’s winning Ashes squad, came out on Monday, following-on from Welsh international rugby legend Gareth Thomas, who announced his orientation at the end of 2009.

The popularity of Davies, the first professional openly gay player, is at a high.

The success of the England team in Australia, and his form as a batsman and wicketkeeper for Surrey has ensured that if he is going to come out, this might be a good time to do it.

However, his bravery should not be underestimated, as cricket is a sport that has undergone a huge transitional period over the past 10 years.

The tradition of gentlemen, cucumber sandwiches, and polite applause has been replaced by the laddishness of Freddie Flintoff, high-tempo 20-20 matches, and a beer-fuelled Barmy Army in the crowd, at England games anyway.

The appeal of the sport to a more mainstream audience has meant the high-profile players have become just as likely to appear in the news section of the papes as on the back pages.

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The England squad should be praised too. They learned of Davies’ decision before the Ashes had started and must have been supportive and understanding for him to make things public.

It is arguable that Gareth Thomas’ decision came as a bigger shock.

The back is an icon for his nation, becoming the first Welsh international rugby player to win 100 caps, and scoring 40 tries.

He was also married to his teen-sweetheart for six years, divorcing in 2007.

The stance of his announcement and his undeterred dignity have been top class, and stuck two fingers up to anyone who would think about treating him differently.

“What I choose to do when I close the door at home has nothing to do with what I have achieved in rugby,” he quite rightly told The Guardian in 2010.

He has also encouraged others to declare their sexuality and has become a supporter of several charities, while continuing to play top-level rugby.

Despite the pair’s revelations, the likelihood of a footballer coming out seems small.

Some fans will try to convince you that rumours about a hated rival player being gay are true, but so far this has proved to be nothing more than internet forum talk and terrace chanting.

The misguided ‘passion’ of a large section of football fans would make for an unplayable atmosphere for even the most mentally-focussed player should he come out, which is sad.

Gay footballers won’t be encouraged by the devastating case of Justin Fashanu, the only professional footballer in England to come out.

The former Nottingham Forest striker said he was gay in 1990, was subjected to abuse for the rest of his career, and committed suicide in 1998 after being accused of sexual assault, which he denied.

Davies and Thomas have proved that cricket and rugby have become more tolerant places to come out, but it’s sad that football has yet to follow its blazed-trail.