Brazil’s Igor Benevenuto has become the first FIFA-ranked referee to come out as gay.
The 41-year-old football referee said that in coming out as gay, he hopes to inspire other LGBTQ+ athletes to speak out about their sexuality.
“Soccer was for men, and since an early age I knew I was gay… there was not a more perfect place to hide my sexuality,” Benevenuto told the Nos Armários dos Vestiários podcast.
“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.
“There are many gay people in soccer. We exist and we deserve to speak about it, live normal lives.”
In a statement to GloboEsporte, 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’.”
The FIFA World Cup is taking place this year in Qatar, where LGBTQ+ people are criminalised.
Benevenuto’s announcement comes after several high-profile athletes have come out as LGBTQ+ in the past year, including Australian football player Josh Cavallo.
Blackpool’s Jake Daniels made history in May as the UK’s first active male pro footballer to come out as gay since Justin Fashanu in 1990.
He told Sky Sports that “being gay or bi or queer” in men’s football is “still a taboo” subject, but that it was a “massive relief” to come out.
He added that by coming out, he hopes he can “be a role model” and help “others come out if they want to”.
“I am only 17 but I am clear that this is what I want to do and if, by me coming out, other people look at me and feel maybe they can do it as well, that would be brilliant,” he said.
Australian player Josh Cavallo, who is gay, has said that he would be afraid of travelling to Qatar if called up for the World Cup.
“It’s something I’m very scared [of],” he said.