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Football must show homophobia the red card

Australian midfielder Josh Cavallo said on October 28, 2021 he is overwhelmed by the outpouring of global support since coming out as the only known gay men's footballer playing in a top flight league. Photo: AFP

Australian midfielder Josh Cavallo said on October 28, 2021 he is overwhelmed by the outpouring of global support since coming out as the only known gay men's footballer playing in a top flight league. Photo: AFP

Published Oct 31, 2021

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Caoe Town - Australian 21-year-old footballer Josh Cavallo earlier this week released an emotional video confirming he is gay.

The player was applauded by many within the global football fraternity for his bravery and for being just one of a handful of professional soccer players, past and present, to be open about his sexuality.

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Cavallo spoke of his angst, his anguish, his pretence and the drain of trying to sustain a double life to appease all the stereotypes of soccer and sport being a man’s world.

It was brave, in the context of the message, but it was also sad that in 2021, any individual – be it a student or a professional sportsman – can’t just be themselves, without prejudice or judgement.

It is incomprehensible that gay men are not among the sporting elite, regardless of code, residence or country of birth. The "official" numbers, given what an occasion it seems to be whenever a player in a high-profile sport takes to social media to confirm sexual orientation, suggest only straight men make up the professional sports world.

Obviously, it is not the case but the stereotype is reinforced because of the feared backlash from employers, supporters, media and sponsors.

These individuals fear they have too much to lose in a career with a limited lifespan, which is where sponsors, employers and the media have the biggest responsibility to create an environment and drive a culture of unconditional acceptance when it comes to sexual orientation.

Former England footballer and celebrated television analyst Gary Lineker tweeted: "It is absurd that coming out is a brave thing to do in football. It is though, and I am full of admiration for Josh for treading a path hopefully many others will follow.

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"I am sure the overwhelming majority of football lovers will support him and erase the fears others may have."

Another celebrated footballing star turned analyst, Rio Ferdinand concurred: "Josh’s coming out video was strength and bravery personified."

The words "strength“and “bravery” are at the heart of the issue, which is the point Lineker is making.

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It shouldn’t require anyone to be brave or strong if the environment allows for them to just be themselves, to be accepted for who they are and if a judgement is to be made, let it be about the individual’s football ability.

The praise for bravery just adds even more pressure to those many others who may also want to just be themselves and get on with living their lives in a contented manner.

The fight against racial prejudice has been heightened and it will be never-ending because there will always be bigots who believe in colour coding and that white is superior. Equally, there will also be those who conform to a stereotype that straight is “the normal” and anything else is abnormal.

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This prejudice won’t go away, but the noise against this prejudice has to come from those around the individuals, as much as the individuals themselves.

Sexual orientation in men’s sport should not be a taboo and it should not even be an issue, but the door to the closet remains firmly shut, by those outside the closet as much as those fighting to unlock the door from the inside.

So much gets written about the taboo of being male and gay in a professional sporting environment, and the majority of the articles I’ve read highlight why the taboo exists in an age when the focus surely has to be on why the taboo simply should not be allowed to exist.

Sports leaders for decades refused to address racism in sport and the zero-tolerance campaigning has only become standard fare in the past five years.

Leaders within the world’s different sporting codes have been even more reluctant to tackle homophobia than racism, which is why a 21-year-old professional soccer player has been lauded for being brave with his coming out, and he is being praised within a global soccer professional player base that would have you believe he is the only gay player currently playing professional soccer in the world.

According to a FIFA survey, 270 million people regularly play soccer in 211 countries, with professional men’s leagues, ranging from a Premier Division to a fourth division in many countries.

Yet, there remains a belief that of all those people, just one 21 year-old male in Australia is gay?

It is this intentional ignorance that has to be challenged, and it can only be done from within and from the top down.

Gay male sports people must be allowed to live their best lives, contented in who they are and comforted that the only judgement is about their sport.

The fight against homophobia has to be the equal of the fight against racism.

@mark_keohane

Related Topics:

SoccerLGBTQIA

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