For all of things it has been, it’s been a season of progress for equality in football. Early on, back in October of 2021, Josh Cavallo came out as homosexual and towards the end of the European season, Blackpool teenager Jake Daniels also announced that he was gay. Now a Brazilian referee has taken the brave step to come out too.
Igor Benevenuto, 41, revealed his sexuality on Brazilian podcast ‘In the closets of the dressing rooms’, as per Marca. He becomes the first openly gay FIFA-ranked referee. This move takes on particular significance given he is set to referee at the Qatar World Cup, where homosexuality is a criminal offence and the leadership there has asked for visiting fans to refrain public displays of affection between couples or otherwise.
Opening up about the matter, Benevenuto explained the tricky matter of negotiating of space which leaves little room for difference.
“Football was a thing for ‘men’ and from early on I knew that I was gay. There was no better place to hide my sexuality. Playing was not a long-term option, so I went along the only possible path: I became a referee.”
The Brazilian also admitted he grew up hating football deeply and that his choice to become a referee was motivated by a desire to fit in, highlighting the damaging nature of societal expectations.
“Being a referee puts me in a position of power that I needed. Did I choose to hide my sexuality? Yes. But it’s more than that. I put myself in position of being the owner of the match, an authority figure and that automatically makes you a person of strength, full of masculinity.”
Interestingly, Benevenuto also appeared to hint a gay community underneath the public face of football too.
“[There are] many homosexual people in the world of football, but 99.9% of them are in the closet.”
“There are referees, players, managers, married people, with children, divorcees, people with double lives… there’s everything… We exist and we deserve the right to speak about it, to live normally.”
Certainly Benevenuto’s decision will continue the push for equal rights and the ability of queer people to exist as themselves within the footballing community. Doing so ahead of the Qatar World Cup in particular puts the matter at the forefront of the agenda, as he will be the only openly gay participant in the tournament.