This is the gayest World Cup ever (and no one's batting an eyelid)

There are about 100 openly LGBTQ+ players and coaches across the the Fifa Women’s World Cup expanded 32 teams, according to counts by LGBTQ+ publications. Picture: Frank Hoermann/Sven Simon

There are about 100 openly LGBTQ+ players and coaches across the the Fifa Women’s World Cup expanded 32 teams, according to counts by LGBTQ+ publications. Picture: Frank Hoermann/Sven Simon

Published Aug 16, 2023


There are several superlatives one could use to describe this year's Fifa Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. It's been really well-attended and really exciting to watch. And it's really, really gay.

There are about 100 openly LGBTQ+ players and coaches across the tournament's expanded 32 teams, according to counts by LGBTQ+ publications. One of those, Autostraddle, noted that the tournament "just might be the most openly queer sporting event in history."

The impact for the queer community - not just here but around the world - can't be underestimated, said Beau Newell, Pride in sport national program manager with ACON, an LGBTQ+ health not-for-profit.

"These women in the World Cup currently, they're the catalyst for change. These athletes are proving that they can be their authentic selves and that doesn't compromise their success," he said.

At the most recent men's World Cup, in Qatar last year, there were no openly gay players. But in the women's game, openly queer players have become an integral part of the sport.

Co-host Australia appears to be the team with the most gay players, with more than half of their squad of 23 openly LGBTQ+, including captain and star Sam Kerr. The striker's relationship with U.S. player Kristie Mewis is among the most well-known in the soccer world.

In February, the Matildas, as the Australian women's team is called, donned rainbow jerseys to celebrate Sydney WorldPride while playing Spain at the Cup of Nations.

"To wear the rainbow colors, something that I've always been really proud and passionate about, is really special," Kerr said in a video statement at the time. "In being myself, being true to who I am and being really open with everyone about who I am, I hope the message that's received by the public is a really positive one."

Other high-profile players who are out and proud include Megan Rapinoe of the United States, Marta of Brazil and England's Rachel Daly. Pernille Harder of Denmark and Magdalena Eriksson of Sweden have been a couple since 2014.

At the men's elite club level, Australia's A-League player Josh Cavallo, English Football League One's Blackpool FC forward Jake Daniels and Czech midfielder Jakub Jankto, who has signed into Italy's Serie A, are among the few players to have publicly come out in recent years.

Videos explaining the relationships between the players on various teams have lit up lesbian TikTok.

In stadium seats across the two countries, excited conversations go something like this: "Did you know that Dutch midfielder is dating a defender for Australia, whose top midfielder is engaged to her former teammate in the Swedish league, and one of the Swedish defenders is with an Italian player?"

Visibility is important for gay fans.

Divina Blanca-Jackson, a 27-year-old lesbian Matildas fan living in Melbourne, said the players were examples of representation where their sexuality was part of, but not their whole, public identity.

She has been a particular fan of Ireland's Katie McCabe and Ruesha Littlejohn, a former couple - and, after her star quarterfinal performance against France, Australia's goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold.

"When you look at the media and you see queer people, often the whole storyline becomes about them coming out and facing homophobia," she said. "And that stuff is important, but it's also really important to see people who are just queer and living their life.

"If I had seen this when I was younger, it would have made the journey a lot easier," she said. "Because I would have been able to look on the screens and see that queer people are able to be happy and live normal lives - normal in the way that they have friends and family who love them, and they're successful in their career."

The atmosphere at this tournament is a stark contrast to the most recent men's World Cup, held in a country where homosexuality is illegal.

When seven clubs initially committed to wearing "OneLove" rainbow armbands while playing in Qatar in support of LGBTQ+ rights, FIFA said players who did so could get yellow cards.

At the women's tournament, the "OneLove" armbands remain banned. FIFA allowed players to wear eight "unity" armbands supporting various causes, including one to "unite for inclusion" with a rainbow design.

Murray Drummond, director of the Sport, Health, Activity, Performance and Exercise Research Center at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, said the visibility of gay players at the women's World Cup "highlights the significant issues that we have in men's sports."

"We're really still struggling to come to terms with different forms of masculinity among men," he said.

In some ways, playing soccer and being openly LGBTQ+ are a natural pairing. They have both often involved challenging gender norms and expectations for women, said Jen Peden, president of LGBTQ+ women's soccer club the Flying Bats in Sydney.

In England, women could not play on grounds owned by the country's Football Association members between 1921 and 1970, after the organization ruled the sport was "quite unsuitable for females." In fellow soccer-mad nation Brazil, it was illegal for women to play between 1941 and 1979.

Pushing against outdated tradition

Peden said pushing against the traditional rules of femininity was part of the appeal for some queer women. "It's an opportunity to be quite physical - to really be in your body, in a sense - and not feel constrained," she said.

"To not have to conform to strictures and gender norms that are otherwise often placed on women - it can be an appeal to escape that."

The Flying Bats was established in 1985; Peden joined in the mid-2000s. Through the game, she found a community - and a wife.

For a long time, supporting women's soccer was a niche activity within Australia. Not this year.

"To see so much of the wider community get behind this group of players who are able to be authentic, and out, and not have to pretend they're someone they're not, is fantastic," Peden said.

Washington Post