Josh Cavallo, the world’s only openly gay top-flight male soccer player, has admitted that he would be “scared” to play at the World Cup in Qatar next year.
Cavallo, 21, came out as gay last month and received praise and support from across the soccer world. But the Adelaide United player told the Guardian‘s Today in Focus podcast that he’d have to think twice about joining the Australian national team for soccer’s biggest tournament.
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, with punishment ranging from imprisonment to even the death penalty for Muslims under sharia law.
The government doesn’t recognize any LGBTQ rights and censors LGBTQ content — including recently banning Marvel’s Eternals due to its depiction of a gay relationship.
The decision to host the 2022 World Cup in Qatar by FIFA, soccer’s governing body, was extremely controversial due to the country’s stance on LGBTQ rights, among other issues.
At the time, then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter responded by telling gay people to “refrain from any sexual activities” if they wanted to attend the event.
Cavallo, who isn’t currently in the Australian national squad but played for the country’s under-20s team, told the Guardian that he’d have to “reevaluate” whether to prioritize his life or his career should he be asked to play in Qatar.
“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,” Cavallo 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,” he continued.
“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 reevaluate — is my life more important than doing something really good in my career?”
Cavallo also discussed his coming out experience, saying that he had heard from closeted LGBTQ footballers who also wanted to come 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,” he said. “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.”
Cavallo came out publicly last month in a series of social media posts, including a video shared on both his and Adelaide United’s Twitter accounts announcing, “I’m a footballer and I’m gay.”
“All I want to do is play football and be treated equally,” Cavallo said in the video. “I’m tired. Trying to perform at the best of your ability and to live this double life, it’s exhausting. It’s something that I don’t want anyone to experience.”
He added: “It’s been a journey to get to this point in my life, but I couldn’t be happier with my decision to come out. I have been fighting with my sexuality for six years now, and I’m glad I can put that to rest.”
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