top of page

Ryan Atkins

Referee Director

Ryan Atkin is a National League, Barclays FAWSL and EFL match official.

In August 2017, he was the first-ever referee in professional football to come out. He is a campaigner for visibility and can often be seen in the media using his voice for change in the game. He is also a senior manager within the rail industry and a Stonewall and Athlete Ally Ambassador.

What made you want to be a part of IGLFA?

I refereed in IGLFA before being publicly open about my sexuality. After coming out, I wanted to give back to this amazing football community and especially my refereeing colleagues. I want to demonstrate and show that you can officiate at the elite level however you identify. My role is to support and encourage individuals to be the best they can be within refereeing and ensure an inclusive environment for all. 

Why would you recommend attending IGLFA supported tournaments? 

Football belongs to everybody! It's the people in football that make it so special. It's a safe space to participate in a sport you love whether as a player, referee or support staff. You have the opportunity's to mix with diverse like-minded football individuals while enjoying social events and driving change in the beautiful game. Only together, will we see the real and impactful change that we all want.

What have been the benefits for you of being your authentic self in football?

I can now live my life as a gay man openly with my peers, and not having to lie, hide in the shadows, or look over my shoulder. It's given me a platform to help others and demonstrate the weight that has now lifted for me just by being my authentic self. It's been such an awesome journey for me personally, allowing for so many opportunities in and out of football. I've seen a huge improvement in my mental health within the game and my performance.

What changes are you seeing in the football industry that are making it more inclusive?

In its early concept, we had Stonewall's Rainbow Laces really highlighting the prevalence of homophobia within football. Although progress may seem slow, since the start of that campaign in 2013, we've seen a huge increase in LGBTQ+ fan groups and initiatives from the professional game. Players and fans truly are progressing the game to the next level. We cannot underestimate the power of a rainbow flag or that of allyship. More recently, we're seeing a domino effect of individuals coming out publicly across the game which only strengthens the work being done. However, we should never rest on our laurels as we see that across the world, anti-LGBTQ+ laws linger and in many places, equality is being eroded.

How has connecting with other LGBTQ+ people in football helped you personally and professionally?

We share a common interest in the beautiful game, and through knowing people who share similarities with myself, that's a conduit for game-changing initiatives. We're a collective that can represent the wider community within the sport at professional and semi-pro levels.

Who are the LGBTQ+ people in football who inspire you and why?

I think that for many years, I ignored those that came out before me because I'd chosen to hide my sexuality and distance myself from it all. However, on reflection, I look back at the trailblazers of their time, and think that if people are struggling with their sexuality now in 2023 in sport, what must it have been like for those pioneers? They are very courageous individuals, to whom I'm eternally grateful.

Instagram and Twitter - @ryantatkin 

Ryan Atkins
bottom of page