Josh Cavallo: Gay Australian footballer says World Cup shouldn’t be going to Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal




CNN

It’s been almost a year since Josh Cavallo announced he was gay, but even now he’s still struggling to understand the massive impact his announcement has had – especially since he’s started speaking out on major issues, including the World Cup in Qatar.

Since making that life-changing decision in October 2021, Cavallo has become one of the most recognizable names and faces in world football, as well as becoming something of an icon.

The Adelaide United star was recently named ‘Man of the Year’ at an awards ceremony hosted by Attitude Magazine, Europe’s biggest LGBTQ magazine. It was the culmination of a whirlwind year that began with what he describes as the start of a new chapter in his life.

“It was huge for me,” Cavallo told CNN Sport. “Coming out was a lot for my family, my friends and it was a huge step forward.

“I just didn’t know what to expect…and I just took that as best I could and ran with it, and that’s who I am.

“I didn’t want to hide anymore and I wanted to show everyone who Josh Cavallo was. To see that I’m affecting and helping people in their everyday lives.

“I walk the streets of London and I get arrested. I’ve only been to London twice now and I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m from Australia and what I did was through social media’, and to see the impact it’s had on people across the globe is absolutely phenomenal.

A year on, Cavallo remains the world’s only openly gay top-flight male footballer – he plays for Adelaide United in Australia’s A League – but his decision inspired Jake Daniels, a striker for English second-division club Blackpool, to quit. in May. of this year.

Cavallo admits he didn’t know what the reaction to his announcement would be, and while there were negative comments, for every hateful message he says he receives, there are 100 supporting him.

Although he had some concerns before coming out publicly, he says the overwhelming feeling was to be “emotionally happy” to no longer “hide and live in this fear”.

“It was just the uncertainty, seeing that no active gay footballer had come out before and there was no plan with it,” he recalled.

“I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know how people were going to react, there was a lot of uncertainty and that’s something I struggled with growing up and why it stuck with me. took so long to become the person I am.

“I wanted to be that person that, you know, people look at now and say, ‘Oh my God, that’s so cool. I want to do this. I want to do what Josh does,’ and I want it to be inclusive. and quite influential.

“It’s great to see people in the football industry, referees and sports people come out and refer to my story and say I’ve been an influence on them. It’s absolutely phenomenal that it’s been had this impact.

Cavallo names Lionel Messi as one of his inspirations on the pitch growing up, but he says he looked up to Justin Fashanu for inspiration in his personal life.

Fashanu became the first openly gay professional footballer after coming out in 1990 while playing in the English top flight, but the backlash he suffered ultimately led him to take his own life eight years later.

“To see this story end in such a sad way, it hurt me and it was like I didn’t want people to have that perspective,” Cavallo says.

“It’s so good to be gay. It’s so good to be a footballer and to feel good about yourself. Why don’t we accept that? And I knew I had the chance to change that .

Earlier this month, former Spain internationals Iker Casillas and Carles Puyol were widely criticized after the former posted a tweet claiming he was gay.

In a now-deleted post on his official Twitter account, Casillas wrote, “I hope I will be respected: I am gay.” In response, former Barcelona captain Carles Puyol wrote: “Now is the time to tell our story, Iker.”

Casillas, who has two children with his ex-wife, deleted the message shortly after it was sent and later apologized, as did Puyol. The original tweet came amid Spanish media gossip that has linked Casillas to multiple women since his divorce.

Cavallo criticized Puyol and Casillas for their tweets.

Cavallo, who tweeted criticism of the pair at the time, says trivializing such an important topic does a disservice to those around the world who are persecuted for their sexuality.

“It’s hard for people to understand when they don’t experience it,” he says.

“You get a lot of messages through social media from people in countries like Qatar and they say, ‘Josh, please help me. I want to come out, I want to be myself but they are going to criminalize me. I’m going to get the death penalty.

“When you hear stuff like that, it breaks your heart because those are the things ordinary people go through in those countries.

“There are 69 countries in the world that still criminalize this, so it’s a huge and important topic and to see gaming icons making fun of this and making fun of my own tribe, it hurts and offends me because that there are a lot of people who are fighting for their lives just to be comfortable with who they are in their own skin.

Cavallo says the swap between Casillas and Puyol proves that football still has “a long way to go” in stamping out homophobia, even though the sport has taken steps in the right direction recently.

“Something that could be an exchange of jokes or teasing is hurtful enough for people like us because we go through our lives so hard, finding our identity of who we are and finally building the courage to be who we are and to be comfortable in our own skin,” he says.

“Then you see people and legends of the game doing that, it’s quite hurtful because we look up to those people. They’re the people we dream of playing against or dreaming of playing with.

“So to see people like that doing things like that and [make] silly jokes like this are quite hurtful to myself in particular and to my community.

Cavallo players for Adelaide United in the A-League, Australia's top football division.

After coming out about his sexuality last year, Cavallo said he would be “scared” to play in Qatar, where same-sex activity is banned.

In response to Cavallo’s fears at the time, Nasser Al Khater, the general manager of the tournament’s organizing committee, told CNN: “On the contrary, we welcome him here in the state of Qatar, we let’s welcome him to come and see even before the World Cup… No one feels threatened here, no one feels in danger.

“I personally know that if I go there, I’ll be protected because I’m in the public eye,” Cavallo told CNN anchor Amanda Davies.

“But it’s not me who worries me. They are the ones who send me messages. It’s those people who aren’t in the public eye who are afraid to even be themselves and walk the streets.

“To see that we are heading towards a country that criminalizes people like me… It’s quite worrying,” added Cavallo.

CNN has contacted Qatar World Cup organizers to comment on Cavallo’s comments, but has not received a response.

Earlier this year, former England international David Beckham became one of the most prominent ambassadors for the World Cup in Qatar.

Beckham has already been widely criticized for taking on the role and Cavallo says he would like to see Beckham use his platform to support the LGBTQ community instead.

“Look, I don’t know David personally, so I can’t really comment on him and his actions,” Cavallo said. “But having allies in the game is really helpful and when I’ve been out in my dressing room, my teammates and to see the reception – each one of them is an ally of me.

“It made me so proud inside and it makes you really emotional because it’s something I struggled with for a long time. So it has such a big impact on myself and my community.

“If someone like David Beckham with his platform bypasses us and becomes an ally that we want him to be, that’s really helpful.

“If he could take the next step and show what he means to the LGBTQ community, that would be fantastic.”

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