Brazilian football referee Igor Benevenuto poses for a picture at the Mineirao stadium, illuminated with the colours of the Rainbow flag, in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais State, Brazil, on 10 August, 2022. (Douglas Magno/ AFP via Getty Images)
FIFA’s first openly gay football referee believes that up to 40 per cent of people involved in football are LGBTQ+.
Brazil’s Igor Benevenuto recently made history by becoming the first FIFA-ranked referee to come out as gay, after more than two decades of hiding his truth,
When Benevenuto came out in July, he told the Nos Armários dos Vestiários podcast: “I am 41, and 23 of those years have been dedicated to the whistle. Until today I’ve never been the real me. Gays are used to not being themselves.
“There are many gay people in soccer. We exist and we deserve to speak about it, live normal lives.”
In a new interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, the 41-year-old shares his belief that there are many people in the same situation as he was.
“Let’s take into account every person involved in football – officials, managers, players and referees,” he said, reported the MailOnline
“Thirty to forty per cent of them are homosexual or bisexual, or have done something at one time with another man.
“You would be surprised at just who is homosexual in this industry.”
Benevenuto also spoke about experiencing prejudice in his home country.
He said: “In Brazil homosexuality is seen as an illness similar to alcoholism, which can be overcome.
“I believed that for years. I suffered from depression and went through dark times.”
He added: “I used to pray to God to free me from this illness. Sadly there is still prejudice. I don’t expect the situation to completely alter during my lifetime.
“But I can still be a drop in the ocean of change.”
‘FIFA strongly believes football is for everyone’
After Igor Benevenuto came out, FIFA issued a statement of support and inclusion.
“FIFA welcomes and supports referee Igor Benevenuto and his decision to come out,” it read.
“As highlighted at other times, FIFA strongly believes that football is for everyone. And Igor striving to be true to himself is an important moment for football in Brazil and in other countries around the world.
“We hope this decision will encourage others and inspire greater diversity and inclusion in the ‘beautiful game’.”
While there are many out, LGBTQ+ players in the women’s game, out gay footballers are rare in the men’s game. In May, Jake Daniels became the first active top-flight male pro to come out as gay since Justin Fashanu in 1990.
Josh Cavallo, the Australian player, came out in 2021.
Ayling was joined by former Leeds United players Jermaine Beckford and Noel Whelan in marching with LGBTQ+ organisation Marching Out Together, which supports Leeds United’s queer fans.
Around a similar time, it was confirmed former Sunday league footballer and Radio 2 presenter Richie Anderson would take part in Strictly Come Dancing in an all-male partnership – the show’s third-ever same-sex pairing.