A Birmingham barrister has vowed to fight against a "culture of homophobia" in football after being appointed as chairman of a new FA panel.
Tariq Sadiq, a practising barrister for 20 years at St Philips Chambers, will lead the FA's anti-discrimination panel, created in the wake of the high profile racism cases involving the likes of Luis Suarez and John Terry.
With not one single openly gay professional footballer in the UK, Mr Sadiq said homophobia was a significant barrier to overcome in the game.
The panel will aim to show a strong stance against intolerance, at all levels of the game, with a zero tolerance approach and powers to act against players, coaches and supporters.
Mr Sadiq refused to accept there were no gay footballers and said it was clear more had to be done to make football more open to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.
He said: "There are a lot of people in the game who are gay but wouldn't reveal that because of the stigma they would face, perhaps from players or managers or fans.
"The FA are trying to deal with these issues. If the anti-discrimination panel can raise awareness that any kind of attitude is not going to be tolerated, and if you are homophobic you will be punished as strongly as in these high profile racism cases, then I think it will help to change people’s attitudes."
He added: "If you are as old as me, you would remember Justin Fashanu who came out as gay and later committed suicide.
"I don't know the reason but people say that the alienation and stigma and abuse that he received played a part.
"That is such an awful thing to happen to someone and it is unacceptable that sexual orientation should matter at all. It should all be about what happens on the pitch."
The Football Association acted to set up the 50-strong panel after the game faced harsh criticism when some of its leading lights were punished for racial abuse.
Former England captain John Terry was banned for four games in 2012 for racially abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand, while Liverpool's Luis Suarez received an eight-match penalty for "using insulting words towards" Patrice Evra of Manchester United.
That was followed by a five-match ban for Nicolas Anelka, then of West Bromwich Albion, for a "quenelle" gesture, which some say is anti-semitic, last year.
The panel will aim to impose zero tolerance at the grass roots level, as well as in front of the television cameras.
Mr Sadiq said it was a rigorous process, including interviews and assessments as the FA sought a diverse group of various ethnicities, gender and faith.
The panel will hand out bans for players, touchline bans for coaches and managers and stadium bans for supporters deemed to have breached the laws.
"They have told us we shouldn't shy away from imposing bans," Mr Sadiq said.
"If there is a blatant case of homophobic or racist abuse then there is a certain minimum number of games you should ban a player for.
"That is a good thing as it shows discrimination of any kind is not going to be tolerated. It has taken high profile cases like Suarez, Terry and Anelka to bring this to the fore."
Mr Sadiq is ranked number one for sports law in the eminent Chambers and Partner’s 2014 directory.
In 2013, he won the award for Barrister of the Year at the Birmingham Law Society Legal Awards and was shortlisted for the same award in 2012 and 2014.
The Nottingham Forest fan previously represented the Premier League in discrimination cases brought about by coaches and referees aged over 50 and also represented former Bangladeshi cricketer Mohammad Ashraful who faced spot-fixing allegations.
He accepted that, in a modern age, fines have little impact on major stars earning more than £200,000 a week, however he said bans would hit clubs hard and encourage better policing.
He said he also hoped the anti-discrimination panel would help to protect whistleblowers speaking out against issues from racial abuse to homophobia or sexism.
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