Ryan Atkin becomes first openly gay referee in England
Ryan Atkin will become the first openly gay referee in English men's professional football this season after revealing his sexuality -- and he has been tipped to reach Premier League level.
The 32-year-old was referee for Bath City's 5-2 home defeat to Chippenham Town on Tuesday in the National League South.
And as well as taking charge of matches at that level, the sixth tier of the game, Atkin will serve as a fourth official for English Football League and National League fixtures.
Atkin told Sky Sports News: "Being gay doesn't matter in the context of refereeing a football match but if I'm speaking about equality and diversity, then I'm going to mention that I'm gay because it's relevant.
"Homophobia is still a problem, but things are improving all the time. You can change the game and culture when you change your mind."
He added: "People who are happy in their own skin at work will perform better as a result; the same is true of professional sport. The best referees are the ones that bring their whole self to the match, officiating with their personality and ultimately improving their ability to get the decisions right."
There are no openly gay footballers in the Premier League or Football League, but Atkin believes many within the game are more open-minded and welcoming to people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities than has previously been the case. He highlighted Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaigns in previous seasons as being "hugely important."
He said: "I'd now like to see more players and referees helping to promote inclusion. That increased effort can go a long way in reaching even more communities."
Before focusing on his ambition of becoming a referee, Atkin served as an assistant referee and has experience of running the lines in the Football League.
Former top-flight referee Mike Riley is convinced Atkin, who hails from Plymouth, has what it takes to reach the top of the refereeing profession.
Riley is managing director of Professional Game Match Officials Ltd, which appoints officials to games, and praised Atkin for making his announcement.
"Ryan has demonstrated great skill, enthusiasm and commitment throughout his progress as a referee and, with the continued support of the FA and PGMOL coaches, has a great opportunity to realise his ambitions to referee in the EFL and Premier League," Riley said.
"Those same qualities are evident in Ryan's declaration today and we at PGMOL are proud to support him in emphasising that, in whatever walk of life, people perform better when they can be themselves, which is a hugely powerful message."