Germany’s 2014 World Cup winner Philipp Lahm has once again reignited a burning issue into the footballing world – why isn’t homosexuality accepted?
Lahm, a legend of Bayern Munich and the German Mannschaft, who led both sides as captain, has just published an autobiography in which he advises gay players not to reveal their sexual orientation to the world, nor even to their own teammates.
"Acceptance is still lacking in the world of football and in society as a whole," writes Lahm, continuing: "If a footballer comes out of the closet, he cannot count on the same maturity in all his rivals nor in the stadiums where he competes. He’d have to put up with insults – who would accept that?”
“They should all accept it! Managers, fans and teammates,” replies Bernardo Vleminchx, a full back with Los Dogos, the Argentine national squad consisting of homosexual and heterosexual players.
Vleminchx, who also belongs to the Asociación Argentina de Deportistas por la Diversidad, is sweeping in his condemnation.
“It’s deplorable that in 2021 we still have to read these things,” he says. “It’s a setback in a sphere like sport, which is making progress with sexual diversity, with sportspeople coming out of the closet and working towards making this issue more natural.”
Yet the 36-year-old also recognises that football, especially in Argentina, is not very permeable to coming out of the closet.
“The football world is not prepared to greet homosexual players with open arms. But you must bear in mind that this is a topic never discussed in the clubs nor in the AFA [Argentine Football Association] nor the media,” said Vleminchx.
“You build bit by bit. Football is a closed world, it won’t be easy but everything can be worked out, given time.”
Women without prejudice
Among the many differences between men’s and women’s football, the most particular has to do with attitudes and acceptance of homosexuality – whereas for the men it is a subject never tackled, riddled with prejudices and hypocrisy, among women it has become totally natural.
“Among the girls there are no prejudices, many go public, forming couples and adopting children and there is even a transgender player in the Primera B Division, Mara Gómez,” observes Vleminchx.
The Los Dogos player finds an explanation: “The female professional league is very recent and when it was created barely two years ago, the issue was already there. And the best thing is that they all accept that some are lesbians and others not.”
Cases of gay footballers worldwide
Football is so impermeable to accepting homosexuality that the number of players that have come out can be counted on fingers.
The first was Nottingham Forest’s Justin Fashanu, who confessed to being gay in 1990. It all ended tragically for the black forward – the fans mocked him, some of his teammates rejected him and he came to be the target of the British yellow press. After being accused by a teen of sexual assault, Fashnau committed suicide in May, 1998.
Another Englishman, Liam Davis, had better luck – he went public with his homosexuality at the age of 23 while playing for Gainsborough Trinity and both his teammates and the fans accepted him.
The case of Germany’s Thomas Hitzlsperger is emblematic – he played in midfield for Aston Villa and the German national team. He had a girlfriend throughout his playing career and cancelled the wedding the month before the ceremony, only coming clean about his sexual preferences upon retirement from football.
Sweden’s Anton Hysén came out of the closet in 2011 when he agreed to pose for the cover of Offside magazine. He had the good fortune that his family, friends and teammates supported his decision. Since then, apart from playing in Sweden’s Second Division, he has become a public activist for homosexual rights.
Lastly, there’s the case of Robbie Rogers of the United States. In 2013, while playing for English side Leeds United, he published a post on his blog that revealed he was gay. He retired from football but then returned to play for Los Angeles Galaxy and win the league, also playing for the US national team.