English football has a long way to go before it has its own Josh Cavallo, but LGBT+ support is growing

The reasons why no male professional in England has come out are difficult to pin down. What we do know is that being your authentic self mproves performance at work

Chris Paouros
Thursday 09 December 2021 10:10 GMT
Josh Cavallo: Australian top-flight footballer comes out as gay

I’m often asked why there are no openly gay players at the professional level of the men’s game. It is indeed eye-opening that there isn’t even one in England, but it’s also not the only yardstick on which to measure LGBT+ inclusion in football.

In October, Josh Cavallo became the first top-flight male professional footballer in the world to come out as gay. While we’d all like to see someone as open as the Adelaide United player come forward in this country, however we must remember that there are many people out in our game – from fans, coaches, club and governing body staff and of course players in the women’s game. Similarly, this is not a phenomenon that only affects football; people are reluctant to come out in a number of environments. Football as our greatest “entertainment” has a huge spotlight shone on it, so the issue often feels more acute.

The reasons why no male professional in England has come out are difficult to pin down. Is it career progression, fan approval, media attention, or concerns about the acceptance of teammates and peers, that makes professional male players reticent? It could be some of these, it could be none of them. It’s likely all of them and more. Each individual’s circumstance is unique, so none of us can really know.

What we do know is that being your authentic self at work improves performance. The mental strain of concealing a large part of your identity is massive, and the margins at the top are very small. So it’s possible that there are and have been many young men in the game who don’t make it to the top flight because they have not felt comfortable or welcome to be themselves fully in football.

Either way, the work that LGBT+ fan groups do, campaigns like Rainbow Laces, Football V Homophobia and the work that we do at Kick it Out advocating, educating, and developing talent to create an inclusive game are crucial in helping to create the conditions where a male professional player coming out is possible.

English football has over 50 LGBT+ fan groups, more than any other country. Jurgen Klopp and Jordan Henderson’s willingness to stand up and speak out against homophobic chanting at a recent Liverpool fixture showed that there are key figures in football championing the cause.

Yes, there is also the issue of major tournaments and the nations that host them.

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Consecutive World Cups will now have been held in countries explicit in their oppression and mistreatment of LGBT+ people. As an organisation which has built a reputation around fighting for inclusion, this is unacceptable to us. But alongside some other inspirational organisations, Kick It Out has formed a Qatar 2022 Working Group, which will strive to drive inclusion and security for fans at next year’s tournament, as well as creating a lasting impact for the rights of LGBT+ people in Qatar, and on the decision making process for future tournaments.

There is support for the LGBT+ community in football, and it is growing. The outpouring of love around Josh Cavallo’s coming out is indicative of that. There will always be detractors and haters, but we treat that like we treat everything else. We work out where that lack of understanding is coming from, and we educate and we advocate for the necessary legal, structural or cultural change to make sure football can be a space in which everyone feels able to be themselves, without fear of discrimination or abuse.

Chris Paouros is a trustee at Kick It Out and co-chair of Proud Lilywhites

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