Gary Lineker wants to see a Premier League player come out as gay during the Qatar World Cup to send a strong message to a host nation where homosexuality remains a crime.
Former England striker Lineker told the Daily Mirror he knows of two gay Premier League players, saying they had been “very close” to coming out before now.
“It would be great if one or two of them came out during the World Cup. It would be amazing,” Lineker said. “I know for a fact that some have been very close and contemplated it. There’s a couple I know, but obviously it’s not for me to say who they are.”
The World Cup kicks off on 20 November in Qatar, a nation where same-sex sexual activity is punishable by seven years in jail, or even death by stoning for Muslim men under Sharia law.
This week Qatar’s World Cup chief Nasser Al Khater sought to give assurances to LGBTQ+ fans that they would be welcomed at the tournament, but obvious concerns remain and many are worried for their safety.
England captain Harry Kane has promised to wear a OneLove armband during the tournament, even if it is banned by FIFA.
Jake Daniels of Championship side Blackpool and Australian Josh Cavallo of Adelaide United are the highest-profile players to have come out to date.
Asked why more had not followed, Lineker said: “Fear. Fear of the unknown, I imagine. Perhaps they are worried what their team-mates might think, although they probably already know.
“It seems insane that it should even be a thing. People say, ‘Yeah, but the crowds.” And I say, ‘Well the crowds chant anyway’. You’re always going to get a few idiots. But it’s easy for me to say as I’m not in that position.”
Lineker had hoped Cavallo and Daniels would prompt other players to come out, and suggested the first Premier League player to do so would make themselves more marketable.
“I was hoping, because there are lots of players that are having to live a lie,” he said. “I’m sure it’s very difficult. But I think what we’ve seen so far is that the feedback and the response, it will be incredibly positive.
“If I were an agent of a big footballer, if I knew one of my players was gay, if he was a top player, I’d say, ‘Be the first big player’. I mean, as an agent, thinking in terms of promotion and stuff, you’re going to be huge.”
Lineker said he turned down the opportunity to host April’s World Cup draw, saying he did not want to do it given his record of criticising corruption around the awarding of the tournament.
“It’s a different Fifa now,” he said. “But I felt, rather than where I said I’m there to report on the World Cup rather than support it, doing the draw for Fifa would be supporting the World Cup and supporting the decision.”
And the television presenter said the BBC’s coverage of the World Cup would cover the controversy around Qatar as a host nation – including its record on human rights and the migrant workers who built the stadiums.
“I’m sure we’ll do it on the first night,” he said. “Obviously, we’re not going to do it in every build-up to every game, but of course we’ll talk about it and openly.”