Football Association chairman Greg Clarke says that it would be impossible for a Premier League footballer to come out because they would be subjected to "significant abuse", according to a report by the Independent newspaper.
Speaking to the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport select committee, Clarke said: "I would be amazed if we haven't got gay players in the Premier League," adding that he felt "personally ashamed" that none had yet felt themselves able to come out.
Clarke said he believed an openly gay player would suffer "significant abuse because I don't think we've cracked the problem [of homophobia] yet.
"Before we encourage people to come out we must provide the safe space where they have the expectation to play or watch football and not get abused," he continued.
Committee member John Nicolson, the Scottish National Party MP for East Dunbartonshire, said that football "lags so far behind civil society", highlighting an incident last weekend when Luton fans directed homophobic abuse at a group of Leyton Orient supporters.
Accepting this assessment, Clarke said that the FA were "not in denial. We may not have figured out how to crack [homophobia] yet but there's a deep loathing of that sort of behaviour within football."
The report by the Independent also brought up research by the charity Stonewall, which found that "22 per cent of 18-to-24-year-olds would feel uncomfortable if a player they supported was to come out as gay."
These figures are surprising given that, in wider British society, young people tend to hold more accepting views on sexuality.
Justin Fashanu remains the only openly gay footballer to play in England's top flight. He received considerable crowd abuse after coming out in 1990 and, after a number of personal issues, took his own life in 1998 at the age of 37. Former Aston Villa man Thomas Hitzlsperger came out after his career ended, while former Leeds United player Robbie Rogers revealed he was gay after moving back to his native U.S. Rogers now plays for the LA Galaxy, but has recently suffered homophonic abuse on the pitch.