Three players are in contact with the Football Association about coming out as gay, according to MP John Nicolson.
He made the comments during a Department of Culture, Media and Sport hearing into homophobia in sport.
In October, FA chairman Greg Clarke told MPs that Premier League players would suffer “significant abuse” if they chose to reveal they are gay.
Speaking to Nicolson, sports minister Tracey Crouch said “there has never been a better time” to come out.
She told MPs that Clarke’s comments were “incredibly disappointing” and “strange”, adding: “If someone were to decide to come out, they should feel like they are being supported by the authorities and that any abuse would be tackled.”
In response, Nicolson said that Clarke had been invited back to present an action plan to MPs, because it was “not good enough” to say an openly gay player would suffer abuse.
“I understand three players are in talks with the FA about coming out and they haven’t done so yet,” said Scottish National Party MP Nicolson. “It’s good to know that you’re encouraging people to come out.”
Justin Fashanu became the first player in England to come out as gay in 1990, but took his own life aged 37 in 1998. No male professional player has come out while playing in England since.
Former Germany and Aston Villa player Thomas Hitzlsperger became the first player with Premier League experience to publicly reveal his homosexuality, in January 2014, after he had finished playing in England.
Former England women’s captain Casey Stoney was the first active footballer to come out in England since Fashanu, in February 2014.
In October, a BBC Radio 5 live study found that 82% of football supporterswould have no issue with their club signing a gay player.
However, 8% of fans said they would stop watching their team.
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Hooker Hartley, 30, will find out on Wednesday if he will be available for the Six Nations next year after he was sent off for the third time in his career while playing for Northampton.
In total, Hartley has served 54 weeks of suspension during his career.
“I think Dylan’s got credit in the bank,” Ritchie told BBC Sport.
“I think most people would say it’s been a fantastic year. We’ve had 13 wins out of 13 and Dylan has made a huge contribution and he should be allowed to continue that.”
Former England head coach Stuart Lancaster dropped Hartley from his 2015 World Cup squad after the player headbutted Saracens’ Jamie George.
But he was reinstated as captain when Eddie Jones succeeded Lancaster in November 2015, and England remain unbeaten under the Australian.
Hartley returned to his club in October, following the autumn internationals, and came on as a replacement in Friday’s 37-10 defeat by Leinster in the European Champions Cup.
But after only six minutes on the pitch he was shown a red card for a swinging arm on Sean O’Brien and will now appear at an independent hearing to find out his punishment.
“Obviously it’s disappointing when he gets sent off but we’ll wait and see what happens,” RFU chief executive Ritchie added.
“If he’s eligible to be in contention for the Six Nations then it’s a matter for Eddie.
“He’s been a great leader and his performances on the pitch, and the way he’s helped Eddie with the team… I think he’s done a fantastic job.
“Ever since Dylan’s been involved in the set-up, he has been the perfect ambassador on and off the pitch.”
Rugby ‘isn’t going soft’
On the same weekend as Hartley’s card, Wasps’ Kurtley Beale was sin-binned for a high tackle on Connacht’s Niyi Adeolokun – a decision which prompted Wasps director of rugby Dai Young to call officiating “a bit of a joke”.
In response to Young’s comments, Ritchie said: “We need to look at high tackles and we need to be aware that concussion is a major challenge for the game.
“It’s right that World Rugby have increased some of the tariffs in those disciplinary matters. I don’t think it’s going soft but those areas around the head we should be rigorous about.”
Hartley’s club Northampton Saints have been under scrutiny after an incident involving Wales wing George North.
TV replays appeared to show North lying motionless after a fall in Saints’ recent game with Leicester, but he returned to play after passing a pitch-side assessment.
A concussion review group has now been formed to investigate the handling of the case and RFU boss Ritchie said: “They will come to a conclusion by the end of the week and we should learn lessons from that, where there are ones to learn.
“Concussion is definitely a big challenge. We have to address it head on.”
The Miami Dolphins will play the New Orleans Saints in one of those contests as part of the NFL’s International Series.
There will be two games staged at Wembley and two at Twickenham Stadium.
London hosts four games in 2017, one more than in 2016 and the most it has ever hosted.
|NFL fixtures in London in 2017|
|Sunday, 24 September or Sunday, 1 October 2017||Baltimore Ravens @ Jacksonville Jaguars|
|Sunday, 24 September or Sunday, 1 October 2017||New Orleans Saints @ Miami Dolphins|
|Sunday, 22 October or Sunday, 29 October 2017||Minnesota Vikings @ Cleveland Browns|
|Sunday, 22 October or Sunday, 29 October 2017||Arizona Cardinals @ Los Angeles Rams|
The New York Giants became the first side to win at Twickenham in October when they beat the Los Angeles Rams 17-10.
Meanwhile, at Wembley, the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Indianapolis Colts 30-27 and the Washington Redskins tied 27-27 with the Cincinnati Bengals.
London hosted its first NFL game in 2007 and the NFL says there has been “accelerated growth” in audience figures since then. It says the UK has a fan base of more than 13 million people.
BBC Sport has learned $3.7m (£2.9m) of travel grants owed by the Rio 2016 organising committee to national Paralympic bodies are two weeks late.
Several smaller countries took out loans to send teams to Brazil – which the IPC covered with emergency funds.
The IPC is now thought to be considering legal action against the Rio 2016 organising committee.
The Rio Paralympics went ahead in September, but only after budget cuts to venues, the workforce and transport caused by recession and extra spending on the Olympics.
An initial instalment of delayed grants covering the costs for athletes and officials was paid.
But the second payment is now overdue, risking another blow to the legacy of South America’s first Games.
“We’re hugely disappointed that the second instalment of the travel grants, just like the first set, have not been paid on time by Rio 2016 and are urgently seeking a resolution to this issue from all parties concerned,” IPC spokesman Craig Spence said.
“The IPC has stepped in to keep these smaller NPCs [national Paralympic committees] afloat.
“The longer this situation goes on, the more likely it is that other NPCs come forward asking for financial support from the IPC.”
Rio 2016 officials are understood to have told the IPC that they cannot pay because they themselves are owed money from the city authorities.
Furthermore, their accounts have been frozen by a court following a lawsuit filed by two suppliers who say they have not been paid.
The IPC has now sent a letter to Rio mayor Eduardo Paes asking for his help.
In August Paes secured an additional £36m of funding and £24m in sponsorship from state-run companies after an injunction was lifted that had blocked further state aid for the Paralympics
“Overnight we have sent a letter to Rio mayor Paes, who was hugely supportive of the Paralympic Games, asking him to step in and intervene” Spence said
Manchester United will face French side Saint-Etienne in the Europa League last 32, while Tottenham Hotspur meet Belgian team Gent.
United midfielder Paul Pogba is set to face older brother Florentin, who plays for the eighth-placed Ligue 1 side.
Spurs have never met Gent, who finished third in the Belgian top-flight last season, in a competitive fixture.
United’s first leg will be played on Wednesday, 15 February, while Spurs play the following day.
The Red Devils will play on Wednesday because Saint-Etienne’s neighbours Lyon are also playing at home in the Europe League that week.
Both return legs will be played on Thursday, 23 February.
The two Premier League clubs could not be drawn together as teams from the same nation are kept apart.
Tottenham, along with the other seeded teams, will be at home in the second leg.
Spurs were seeded after dropping down from the Champions League, while United were unseeded after finishing second in Group A.
But Jose Mourinho’s side are still favourites to win the competition with most bookmakers.
The Europa League final will be held at Stockholm’s Friends Arena on 24 May.
Pogba versus Pogba
Manchester United’s tie with Saint-Etienne will see Paul Pogba face his older brother Florentin, 26.
“It’s nice, it’s a nice thing,” said Mourinho. “Paul will be laughing, and for sure his brother will also be laughing.
“I think it’s nice, it’s happened in the history of football a few times and it’s nice.”
After a group stage that involved a 3,000 mile round trip to Odessa in Ukraine, Mourinho also welcomed a tie that is much closer to home.
“The good thing is the travel,” he added. “We were very unlucky in the group stage, now we go to France.”
Athletic Bilbao (Spain) v Apoel Nicosia (Cyprus)
Legia Warsaw (Poland) v Ajax (Netherlands)
Anderlecht (Belgium) v Zenit St Petersburg (Russia)
Astra Giurgiu (Romania) v Genk (Belgium)
Manchester United (England) v Saint-Etienne (France)
Villarreal (Spain) v Roma (Italy)
Ludogorets (Bulgaria) v FC Copenhagen (Denmark)
Celta Vigo (Spain) v Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine)
Olympiakos (Greece) v Osmanlispor (Turkey)
Gent (Belgium) v Tottenham Hotspur (England)
Rostov (Russia) v Sparta Prague (Czech Republic)
Krasnodar (Russia) v Fenerbahce (Turkey)
Borussia Monchengladbach (Germany) v Fiorentina (Italy)
AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands) v Lyon (France)
Hapoel Beer Sheva (Israel) v Besiktas (Turkey)
PAOK (Greece) v Schalke (Germany)
Man Utd have hosted Saint-Etienne before – in Plymouth…
Don’t worry, you have read that headline correctly.
Manchester United have only met Saint-Etienne twice before – in a two-legged European Cup Winners’ Cup tie in 1977-78.
And the Red Devils were ordered to play the second leg in Plymouth after the first leg in France was marred by violence involving United supporters.
The English side were kicked out of the competition by Uefa but were reinstated on appeal and told to play their home game outside Manchester.
Bizarrely they chose the Devon city, winning 2-0 to go through 3-1 on aggregate.
United fancy playing the French
- Manchester United have lost just one of their last 16 matches against French opposition, winning nine and drawing six
- United’s former Paris St-Germain striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored 14 goals in 13 games against St Etienne – his favourite opponent in all competitions
- Tottenham have played Belgian opponents eight times in Europe – remaining unbeaten at home (W3 D1) but winless away (D2 L2)
- A new Europa League winner will be crowned for the first time since 2013 after Sevilla, triumphant in each of the past three seasons, progressed to the Champions League last 16
- French side Lyon are unbeaten in their last six European meetings with Dutch teams, winning two and drawing four
- German team Schalke have won five out of six European games against Greek sides, drawing the other
- In their previous seven meetings with Italian sides, German team Borussia Monchengladbach have drawn five (winning one and losing one)