Brazilian referee Igor Benevenuto has become the first FIFA-ranked official to come out as gay.
He told Globo Esporte: “Football is a sport which I grew up hating deeply.
“I couldn’t stand the atmosphere, the macho culture and the prejudice disguised as horseplay. To survive among the circle of kids who always used to play I put together a character, a masked version of myself.
“Football was a man’s game, and from an early age I knew I was gay. There couldn’t have been a better place to hide my sexuality. But playing wasn’t a feasible long-term option, so I went for the only road open: I became a referee.
“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.
“We tone down our attitudes to not disappoint the hetero world’s expectations. I spent my entire life sacrificing who I am to protect myself from the physical and emotional violence of homophobia. And I entered one of the most hostile environments for a homosexual. That’s why I say that I hated football.”
A statement from FIFA added: “FIFA welcomes and supports referee Igor Benevenuto and his decision to come out. 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.”
In October 2021, Adelaide United’s Josh Cavallo became the first current top-flight male professional footballer to come out as gay. In May earlier this year, Blackpool forward Jake Daniels became the first male pro player in the United Kingdom to come out.