Australian footballer Josh Cavallo, who came out as gay last month, has revealed he would be scared to play at the upcoming World Cup in Qatar because of the country’s criminalisation of homosexuality.
The 21-year-old, who plays for Adelaide United in Australia’s A-League, is the only known gay footballer playing in a top-flight men’s league.
His announcement last month won plaudits from around the world, including from legendary Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic and US talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.
But the midfielder — who has played for Australia at the under-20 level but has yet to be called up for the senior side — indicated he was not sure what he would do if he were selected to play at the 2022 World Cup.
“I read something along the lines of that [they] give the death penalty for gay people in Qatar, so it’s something I’m very scared [of] and wouldn’t really want to go to Qatar for that,” he told the Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast.
“And that saddens me. 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?”
Since being selected as host in 2010, Qatar has faced searing criticism for its treatment of LGBT people, as well as its record on women’s rights and labour issues.
Last year a report from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) said sources indicated the death penalty could potentially be used as punishment for consensual homosexual sex in Qatar.
The chief executive of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, Nasser al-Khater, said in 2019 that “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”.
However, he stressed that “public displays of affection are frowned upon, it’s not part of our culture — but that goes across the board to everybody”.
The last World Cup was held in Russia, where queer activism was severely restricted under a 2013 “gay propaganda” law forbidding the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relationships” to minors.
Despite football’s immense popularity worldwide only a few male footballers have ever come out as gay, mostly after retirement to avoid the prospect of taunts from the terraces.
The first professional player to come out while still playing was Britain’s Justin Fashanu in 1990, but he never found acceptance in the game and hanged himself in 1998.