Raymond Mashamba was outed as gay by a national newspaper in Zimbabwe.

Raymond Mashamba, a Zimbabwean football referee who was outed by a national newspaper, has been granted asylum to stay in the UK.

Sky Sports reports that Mashamba’s sexuality was discovered by one his friends, who subsequently blackmailed him in the run-up to and during the CONIFA World Cup.

Mashamba’s sexuality was shared with members of his local community, as well as his mother, before a national Zimbabwean newspaper picked up the story and outed him.

Homosexuality is illegal in Zimbabwe, and people can be thrown in jail for simply holding hands with a member of the same sex. During the tournament, Mashamba made a claim for asylum in the UK, arguing that it would be unsafe for him to return to Zimbabwe due to his sexuality.

Mashamba has been granted asylum with a five-year stay, and was given the option to apply for full residency in 2023.

Related: British rugby team launch petition to prevent gay player from being deported to Kenya

Speaking to Sky Sports, Mashamba said: “I have to thank everyone for being there for me. The Titans, CONIFA and AFC Muswell Hill in particular have been so supportive.”

He added: “I now want to continue with my studies and also with my refereeing. I also want to continue to fight for LGBT rights for people in Zimbabwe.”

Stuart Forward, the secretary of the LGBTQ-inclusive football club, the London Titans FC, said: “It’s heartening to hear of this positive outcome, particularly when taken against a political backdrop that has not always been accommodating of issues around LGBT asylum. All of us at London Titans FC are delighted that Raymond now has the stability to plan his future.

“Supporting him throughout his asylum bid has highlighted the universal importance of community, especially in the face of prejudice and discrimination.”

He added: “Working with Raymond throughout this time has shown how important a platform like ours can be in supporting individuals from across the LGBT community, and how much more can be done to provide a place for all to flourish as their authentic selves.

“With this in mind, London Titans FC are looking into establishing a fund to assist LGBT refugees and asylum seekers in accessing football and also the belonging that comes through being part of an active sporting community.”

And Paul Watson, a board member of CONIFA said: “We’re really delighted Raymond’s going to have a chance to be safe and to be able to build a life here in the UK. We hope the decision opens doors for him to do what he loves, which is refereeing.

“It’s a cliché that football is a family but the way in which both the CONIFA and LGBT football communities have rallied around Raymond – a person who had no initial support at all when he arrived here – shows a genuine bond. You need family most when you’re in a desperate situation.

“He’s going to continue to need help, but he’s also got those important support networks in place.”