Contrary to popular belief that coming out of the closet could be harmful for footballers, more than 93 percent of soccer fans revealed that they would continue to support players who openly admit to be gay.
The results provided the first evidence that gay players would meet with approval from fans of all ages and backgrounds, proving the idea of ingrained homophobia in fan culture to be false, said Professor Ellis Cashmore who led the study with Dr Jamie Cleland from Staffordshire University.
The study identifies conservative clubs and agents to be the sport's strongest barriers to change.
It sampled the views of 3,500 supporters through an anonymous online survey in the first empirical study of homophobia in fan culture.
"It is commonly believed that football is not ready for openly gay players," said Cashmore.
The research was the broadest yet conducted on football fans. 83 percent of respondents were male, 2 percent were under-16 while 52 percent were aged 17. While the majority of supporters were from the UK, with 85 percent supporting British teams, the survey received responses from 35 countries.
From the answers four clear ideas emerged which appear to represent supporters' attitudes to homophobia: the supportive attitude of fans towards homosexual footballers, comparisons with racism in the 1980's, the need for greater transparency from football's governing organisations, and the decisive role of clubs and agents in creating and maintaining a culture of secrecy.
"Even in light of this new finding the fact remains that there has only been one openly gay player in the history of British football," said Dr Cleland.
"Fans blame agents who are afraid of losing their commissions and conservative clubs who wish to maintain the status quo. It is the market which controls football which prohibits gay players coming out," he added.
The study was published in the British Journal of Sociology
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