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Gay Footballer Josh Cavallo Would Be “Scared” To Play At World Cup In Qatar

The world’s only openly gay top‑flight men’s footballer says he would be “scared” to play at the World Cup in Qatar next year because of the emirate’s harsh ban on homosexuality and legal penalties ranging from flogging to lengthy prison terms and execution.

Josh Cavallo, 21, who plays for Adelaide United in Australia’s A-League, received a wave of support from football fans, current, and former players last month after opening up about his sexuality in a video posted to the club’s social media feeds.

Cavallo told the Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast on Monday that the announcement had followed six anguished years of trying to hide his sexual identity from everyone he knew. “I didn’t just hide it from my teammates, I hid it from my family,” he said. “I hid it from my friends, I hid it from everyone I hang around so it was only when I was by myself that I could genuinely relax and not worry and not stress.”

The announcement made Cavallo the only out gay player in men’s professional football, his isolation stark in a sport whose administrators have launched high-profile public campaigns in recent years embracing LGBTQ+ fans and culture, as the Guardian writes. 

Yet only a handful of male players have ever come out, in contrast to the women’s game, which has easily blown past the same barrier: more than 40 lesbian or bisexual players took part in the 2019 women’s World Cup in France, according to Fifa.

Critics have raised the fact that Fifa continues to award World Cups to countries such as Russia – where homophobia has been called a “state‑sponsored” project – and Qatar, where same-sex acts are illegal, as evidence of the governing body’s patchy commitment to inclusion.

Asked if holding the tournament in a country with strict penalties for homosexuality sent the wrong message to gay footballers and fans, Cavallo, who has played for Australia’s under-20s international side, told the Guardian’s daily news podcast that he would be afraid for his safety if asked to participate in the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

“I read something along the lines of that [they] give the death penalty for gay people in Qatar, so it’s something I’m very scared [of] and wouldn’t really want to go to Qatar for that,” he said.

“And that saddens me. At the end of the day, the World Cup is in Qatar and one of the greatest achievements as a professional footballer is to play for your country, and to know that this is in a country that doesn’t support gay people and puts us at risk of our own life, that does scare me and makes me re-evaluate – is my life more important than doing something really good in my career?”

Homosexual acts are banned under several Qatari laws with penalties ranging from at least a year to a decade in prison. A “danger index” compiled in 2019 to guide LGBTQ+ travelers rated Qatar as the second most dangerous place to travel for queer people.

Muslims in the country can be subject to Sharia law that bans any sexual activity outside marriage with punishments ranging up to the death penalty, meaning homosexual acts can technically result in execution, though several human rights reports have said there is no evidence any gay people have been executed for the offence.

Cavallo said he had been contacted by several other professional footballers who were still in the closet and seeking his advice on coming out. “There are people who have reached out to me in confidentiality and said: ‘I’m struggling with the same thing, Josh,’ and they’re professional footballers too. And look, it’s something you can’t rush. [I say] you want to be yourself, and at the end of the day I wasn’t happy and now look at me, I’m honestly on top of the world.

“They like the sound of that and they say: ‘Josh, I haven’t experienced that before and I want to,’ and I say: ‘It’s in your hands, it’s your journey and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.’ I didn’t think there was but there definitely is.”

Along with the appalling conditions for migrant workers building the infrastructure for the tournament, the prospect of gay fans or players being arrested in Qatar has dogged Fifa since the emirate was announced as host of the tournament in 2010. The organization's then president, Sepp Blatter, fueled the controversy the same year when he was asked if he had any advice for gay people who wanted to travel to the Gulf state for the competition.

“I would say they should refrain from any sexual activities,” Blatter replied, grinning. He later apologized and said nobody would be prevented from attending a match on the basis of their sexuality.

Qatar’s royal leaders view the World Cup as a chance to spur the development of infrastructure such as stadiums, hotels and a metro network in the capital, Doha, as well as to attract tourists and build business and cultural links with the world. But they walk a fine line between accommodating what are now mainstream attitudes towards gay people in much of the world and the country’s own conservative religious values.

As the tournament has approached, Qatari officials have sought to reassure LGBTQ+ fans that they will be welcome in the country and can express themselves – within limits. Flying rainbow flags inside stadiums, for example, will be permitted. The tournament chief executive, Nasser al-Khater, said in 2019: “I would like to assure any fan, of any gender, [sexual] orientation, religion, race to rest assured that Qatar is one of the most safe countries in the world – and they’ll all be welcome here.”

Pressed at the time over how Qataris would react to a gay couple holding hands, Khater said they would be treated the same as a heterosexual couple. “A public display of affection is frowned upon. It’s not part of our culture. But that goes across the board to everybody.”

Read related myGwork articles here:

Australian Footballer Josh Cavallo Comes Out

Gay Premier League Footballer Tortured By Fears He’ll Be “Crucified” For Coming Out

Liverpool FC Manager Jürgen Klopp Condemns Fans For Homophobic Chant

Anonymous Premier League Footballer Publishes Coming Out Letter, Reveals He’s Too Afraid To Publicly Come Out

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