England football manager Gareth Southgate has encouraged gay footballers to come out.

In a recent interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, the former player revealed that gay footballers would be accepted by their straight teammates.  

“The teams and players wouldn’t have any problem with it. They would accept and embrace their teammates after coming out. But footballers are afraid of the reactions outside and from the fans,” he said, as reported by AP News. 

Southgate then reflected on his former teammate Thomas Hitzlsperger, who made waves in 2014 after he came out as gay. 

“I experienced it with Thomas Hitzlsperger at Aston Villa: I didn’t think he was gay, and when he announced it, it was something completely normal,” he explained. 

“European teams have never been as tolerant, multicultural and multi-religious as they are today. Of course, there will always be homophobes on the outside. But I hope gay players come out soon because it would have an enormous impact on society.” 

Elsewhere in the interview, Southgate opened up about the World Cup in Qatar and using the OneLove armband to showcase support for the LGBTQ+ community. 

In Qatar, homosexuality is illegal and can be punished by penalties including flogging, imprisonment and even execution.

“We need to be realists about the goals we want to achieve. I’ve been to Qatar three times, and all the workers have told me clearly that they want the World Cup because it’s a vehicle for change,” he told the publication. 

“We need to respect a country with different cultures, religions and traditions. But at the same time, we have the responsibility and the possibility to shed light on aspects that can be improved. That could make a difference.” 

Since Qatar was announced as the host of the 2022 World Cup, the tournament has been marred with controversy. 

Even though officials have previously encouraged the LGBTQ+ community to attend the event, recent reports have shown that the warm welcome may not be a universal sentiment.

Back in May, Norwegian Broadcaster NRK, Denmark’s DR, and Sweden’s SVT revealed that some of the FIFA-approved hotels in Qatar were not accepting reservations from LGBTQ+ individuals. 

During the investigation, a group of journalists posed as newlywed gay couples and asked for accommodations from 69 hotels in the region. 

As a result, three establishments refused to book the couples, while 20 other hotels offered accommodation on the condition that they hide their sexuality. 

In October, Human Rights Watch revealed that LGBTQ+ people were detained and subjected to “ill-treatment in detention” in Qatar as recently as September.

The report also said there were at least six cases of “severe and repeated beatings” as well as five incidences of “sexual harassment in police custody between 2019 and 2022.”

The 2022 FIFA World Cup is set to take place between 20 November and 18 December.