A LEADING Scots MP has expressed shock that no current professional male footballers will come out due to fear of being harassed online and in public saying the the first one stands to gain "an absolute fortune" in sponsorships.

SNP's John Nicolson, the shadow secretary for digital, culture, media and sport, said it was "shocking in the 21st century" that gay footballers do not feel supported enough to express what their sexuality is and condemned football administrators for not doing enough.

Retired footballer Thomas Beattie, formerly with Hull City, came out publicly as gay last month. He has said he believes fans are the reason why no current professionals have come out as gay.

He became the first male English footballer to come out since Justin Fashanu in 1990. Mr Fashanu came out while still playing top flight professional football in the US. He would later return to the UK to play for Torquay United, Airdrie and Hearts.

HeraldScotland: Portrait of Justin Fashanu of Norwich City in 1981: Pic by Allsport UK

Justin Fashanu

Other international players such as Robbie Rogers and Thomas Hitzlsperger only came out after retiring from British football.

In stark contrast to the men’s game, women's football has many role models. US women's soccer star and talisman Megan Rapinoe competed for her country in the World Cup last summer, during Pride month, along with the 39 other proudly gay players in the tournament.

Other top women's players include Magdalena Eriksson the 26-year-old captain of Chelsea FC Women who plays for the Swedish national team is an open LGBTQIA+ football player.

Mr Nicolson, 59, who became the first BBC network television presenter to come out as gay when a presenter on BBC Breakfast in 1999, has told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee that the first current footballer to come out stood to gain massively financially - but it appeared to be not enough.

"Let's be blunt, I suspect we all know what the problem is. It is that footballers are frightened. It is fear that stops them from coming out.

"I have a friend who is an agent and he told me the first gay footballer would make an absolute fortune because big companies would want to be associated with the first footballer to come out. Financially it would be very lucrative for that footballer.

"I suspect it is the fear that they are going to be harassed online and they might not feel safe walking in the street in certain communities and that they would have a target on their back as the first person to person to come out.

"That really is shocking in the 21st century.

"What seems to me, speaking as a gay man myself, is that footballers are in an enormously privileged position. The high profile ones are very wealthy, they can protect themselves from immediate physical danger. And if they are too scared to come out, what does that say to kids living up and down the country, who look at them and say that if he doesn't feel safe coming out, what hope is there for me in my housing scheme, or estate. That is the real worry about this.

HeraldScotland:

Magdalena Eriksson

"I feel we have been talking about this for years. When I was on this select committee in 2015, and recommended a homophobia in sport inquiry which we did, there were no gay footballers out and here we are five years on and there are still no gay footballers out.

"I don't detect urgency in football administration to change this. I don't recognise a concern about this.

READ MORE: Mark Smith -  I know there are gay footballers in Scotland because I tried to convince one to go public

"There is some concern but it doesn't seem to be a pressing concern."

The SNP MP said that Richard Masters, chief executive of the English Premier League had told MPs that footballers that came out would be embraced by the game which he said was a far more welcoming place in 2020. But he also conceded that it was a failure in the game that a player had not felt able to do so.

But Mr Nicolson said: "I don't have any sense at all that it is a far more welcoming place. By definition, if it was a far more welcoming place, people would feel free to come out."

His commentary came in a discussion with Paul Cleal, an adviser to several relevant organisations including the Premier League who told him that men's football was "not welcoming enough".

He believed football was more concerned about behaviour of people in the stadia and social media, which he said was "a shame".

A spokesman for the FA the governing body of football in England said: "Coming out, irrespective of gender, is an individual and personal decision. Having a support network and allies, whether that’s teammates, friends or family, can be crucial in this process and we will always offer the full support of The FA to anybody that chooses to come out.

"We continue to work with our partners across the game, such as Stonewall, LGBT fan groups, campaign groups and the leagues, to help create a safe and comfortable environment for any player to come out if they wish to do so. We also work with these partners to encourage fans and players to report abuse, both at a national and county FA level, and work with the leagues, campaign groups and the statutory agencies to sanction and educate perpetrators."

The SFA were approached for comment.