Josh Cavallo, an Australian soccer player, says he is scared to play at the upcoming World Cup because of the host country’s criminalization of homosexuality.
Cavallo came out in a video shared by his team on Oct. 26, which has been viewed over 10 million times.
“There’s something personal that I need to share with everyone,” Cavallo said. “I’m a footballer and I’m gay.”
“In football, you only have a small window to achieve greatness, and coming out publicly may have a negative impact on a career. As a gay footballer, I know there are other players living in silence,” he wrote in a statement the following day. “I want to help change this, to show that everyone is welcome in the game of football and deserves the right to be their authentic self.”
Cavallo was praised by other soccer players, including FC Barcelona star Gerad Piqué, who said he was helping the sport “move forward.”
The Irish Times noted that FIFA reported that “more than 40 lesbian or bisexual players took part in the 2019 women’s World Cup in France” while there are only a few openly gay men in professional soccer.
While appearing on The Guardian‘s “Today in Focus” podcast, Cavallo said he became concerned about playing in the Middle Eastern country after reading “something along the lines of that [they] give the death penalty for gay people in Qatar.”
“And that saddens me,” Cavallo said. “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?”
The 21-year-old is a midfielder for Adelaide United in Australia’s A-League. He has not yet been selected to play for his country’s 2022 World Cup team.
Qatar was selected as this year’s host in 2010. Efforts to relocate the event because of the nation’s policies on homosexuality have not succeeded.
“The most pressing reason to pull the plug on the soccer World Cup in Qatar … is the Islamic regime’s lethal homophobic law targeting gay and lesbian sexual activity,” wrote Gay City News in 2020. “Qatar’s statute also states that people can be incarcerated for ‘leading, instigating, or seducing a male in any way to commit sodomy.’ It is long overdue for elite sports associations to cease rewarding nations that criminalize homosexuality.”
“Any fan, of any gender, (sexual) orientation, religion, race (should) rest assured that Qatar is one of the most safe countries in the world — and they’ll all be welcome here,” said Nasser al-Khater, the chief executive of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, in 2019 per France 24 News.
He added that “public displays of affection are frowned upon, it’s not part of our culture — but that goes across the board to everybody.”