FIFA’s First Ever Gay Referee Claims Up To 40 Percent of Footballers are LGBTQ

"You would be surprised at just who is homosexual in this industry."

Life + Leisure Sports Brian Webb

This article was published on September 5th, 2022

Brazilian FIFA official Igor Benevenuto has claimed that 30 to 40 percent of those involved in football are gay or bisexual.

In an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, Benevenuto said that while he has “no idea” how many people are really LGBTQ+, he believes there are many closeted LGBTQ+ footballers and officials (including managers, players, and referees) who have not yet come out.

“Let’s take into account all the people involved in football: officials, coaches, players and referees,” the 41-year-old Brazilian told Der Spiegel.

“Between 30 and 40 percent are homosexual or bisexual or have done something at some point with another man.”

“You would be surprised at just who is homosexual in this industry.”

Benevenuto further claimed that a good number of the footballers and officials are married with children and yet lead double lives with their gay partners.

“There are many gay people in soccer. We exist and we deserve to speak about it, live normal lives.”

FIFA’s only openly gay referee

The Brazilian recently made history by becoming the first FIFA-ranked referee to come out as gay, after 23 years of hiding his truth.

He spoke about suffering prejudice in Brazil because of his sexual orientations, noting that “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 stated. “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.”

In a statement issued after Igor Benevenuto came out, FIFA said, “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.’

Benevenuto had been on the list for a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) role at the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar but was not chosen.

Gay footballers rare in men’s game

The LGBTQ+ community is growing in soccer, and more so in the women’s game. But while gay footballers are rare in the men’s game, there is still a long way to go before they’re commonplace. In May, Blackpool FC striker Jake Daniels became the first active top-flight male pro to come out as gay since Justin Fashanu in 1990.

While it can be difficult for gay footballers to make it through life—and even harder when they’re playing professionally—Daniels said he received “amazing support” from his teammates after telling them about his sexuality.

In August, Leeds defender Luke Ayling became the first-ever active English top-flight player to attend a Pride parade, when he joined in the protests and celebrations at Leeds Pride.

Ayling marched with LGBTQ+ organisation Marching Out Together, which supports Leeds United’s queer fans. He was joined by former Leeds United players Jermaine Beckford and Noel Whelan.

There has been some improvement on the issue of homophobia in football, but they have not yet reached the levels of acceptance seen in other sports.

While there is hope that this will change over time, it remains to be seen whether these attitudes will ever become universal among players. However, with increased visibility for LGBTQ+ people within society at large, perhaps we can expect more tolerance from those within professional sport as well.


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