Tom Bosworth says football must make it easier for its players to come out

Top race walker, who goes for gold in the 20km walk on Sunday, insists his form improved after he announced he is gay and believes many footballers would do likewise but for the fear of abuse

As Tom Bosworth prepares to hunt for gold on the streets of London on Sunday Britain’s most prominent gay athlete says he doubts that a top-flight English footballer will ever come out because “nothing is changing” in the game.

Bosworth, who has high hopes of a world championship medal in the men’s 20km race walk having led the Rio Olympics before finishing sixth, has been an impressive advocate for LGTB rights since coming out in 2015. However he admits that he is frustrated that some fans still create an atmosphere where footballers daren’t come out.

“There are plenty of gay footballers, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “I can say that 100% there are, and while they are supported but they are not able to come out. I don’t know whether we will ever see an out English footballer in the current situation because nothing is changing. Something has to be done about it for somebody to feel comfortable enough to come out.”

Bosworth called on clubs to do more to root out the problem, but admitted he was shocked at how some people still felt it was acceptable to behave differently in stadiums than they would elsewhere. “These are your bosses, these are your friends,” he said. “These are still human beings going to a football match. But what is it about that environment that makes them feel so comfortable – too comfortable – in saying things that they would never dream of saying in the work place or down the pub? They wouldn’t hurl abuse or those comments anywhere, yet people free to put it on social media behind a screen and do it in a stadium.”

Bosworth said that he had met with the Football Association chairman Greg Clarke, who had told him about the things they were doing – including a text scheme in stadiums where fans can text in if they hear any abuse with the seat number. But he urged fans to think before they sang homophobic chants. “Stop a second,” he said. “Would you do this to your colleague? Would you say that in the workplace? You would lose your job immediately.”

When Bosworth came out in October 2015 he insisted that he did not want being defined by his sexuality, or for it to change him. However, with two years’ distance, he now believes it has helped him became a better athlete. “2016 and 2017 have been two incredible seasons for me, so maybe it did have a huge impact on my life,” he said. “Because I could be 100% me without any concerns.”

There was no better evidence of Bosworth’s form than in Rio, when he took the lead after 4km and led until after halfway. But, surprisingly, he confesses that at no point did he think he was going to win, medal, or even finish in the top 10. “The only reason I took the lead was because I was sticking to my plan. It just happened that my form at that point had taken me to being at the front of races, not in the middle of the pack. I just loved every moment of that race – absolutely loved it. I wish I had gone into that race knowing how good form I was in.

His strategy this year will be entirely different. He intends to stay ensconced within the pack until as late as possible before producing the speed that took him to the one-mile world record of 5 mins 31.08 sec last month. “ It is important to remember a mile is not 20k, but look at Mo Farah, who has a British record at 1500m and is running 10,000m. But it’s good to have that range. So I’ll be letting other people do the work – I know that off my shorter distances I know I can go quick.

There is another change he has noticed. His rivals see him as a threat too. “I heard one rumour from a medallist in Rio who said they are concerned about me the most,” he says, smiling. “That is a nice compliment to hear.”

Bosworth says he never thought about walking away from his event, even though a number of his competitors – especially from Russia – have been shown to have doped. However he is realistic about where his sport is even now. “There are still probably people doping,” he says. “There’s no doubt about that. But probably it’s on a much smaller scale. But now I am at the front of the pack and I know I’m clean and I can beat them.”

However Bosworth faced controversy of his own, with some people on social media accusing him of cheating during his recent world record by illegally lifting both his feet off the ground at the same time – in effect of running. “People were comparing it to doping,” he says. “I was like, ‘Really? We are going to go down that line – with people freeze-framing every part of the film?’

Yet Bosworth knows he is no cheat, and just hopes that as race walking becomes more popular that more people understand the rules allow some flexibility. “The crucial part of the lifting rule is, if it’s clear to the human eye and you have clearly got both feet off the ground you are disqualified,” he says. “That’s a clear difference between somebody who is running and walking.”

He adds: “The IAAF are working on this chip to put in their shoes to show whether an athlete is off the ground, but what I find quite funny is I’ve heard they are going to allow for this little margin of error. So you are still going to be able to see pictures of us off the ground.”

Meanwhile, Bosworth believes race walking is on the up – whatever happens today. “Walking is the most popular sport in the world,” he says, smiling. “Screw football, walking is – it really is. I want to take the event to places like Park Runs and things like that. Running is easy – running is for people who can’t race walk!”