It’s been almost a year since Josh Cavallo announced he was gay, but even now he’s still struggling to understand the far-reaching impact of his announcement – especially when he started talking about big issues, especially the Qatar World Cup.
Since making a life-changing decision in October 2021, Cavallo has become one of the most recognizable names and faces in world football, as well as an icon of sorts.
The Adelaide United star was recently named “Man of the Year” at an awards ceremony hosted by Attitude Magazine, Europe’s largest LGBTQ magazine publication. It was the culmination of a whirlwind year that began with what he described as the start of a new chapter in his life.
“It was huge for me,” Cavallo told CNN Sport. “To come out, it’s a lot for my family, my friends and it’s a big step forward.
“I just didn’t know what to expect… and I took it as best I could and I ran with it, and here I am.
“I don’t want to hide anymore and I want to show everyone who Josh Cavallo is. To see that I influence and help people in their daily lives.
“I was walking on the streets of London and was stopped. I’ve only been to London twice now and I’m like: ‘Wow, I’m all the way from Australia and what I’m doing is going through social media,’ and to see the impact on people on the other side of the world is absolutely phenomenal.”
A year later, Cavallo remains the world’s only openly gay male footballer – he plays for Adelaide United in the Australian A-League – but his decision inspired Jake Daniels, striker for English second division club Blackpool, to leave in May. This year.
Cavallo admits he doesn’t know what the reaction will be to his announcement, and despite the negative comments, for every hate message he receives, there are 100 in favor.
Although she experienced the worry before going out publicly, she said the great feeling was “emotionally happy” that she would no longer “hide and live in that fear.”
“It was just uncertainty, seeing no active gay footballer came out before and no plans with it,” he recalled.
“I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know how people would react, there was a lot of uncertainty and that’s something I struggled with growing up and why it took me so long to be who I am now. .
“I want to be the person that, you know, people look at now and say: ‘Oh my God, that’s so cool. I want to do that. I want to do what Josh did,’ and I want it to be inclusive and influential enough.
“It’s great to see people now in the football industry, referees and people in sport come out and refer to my story and say I had an influence on them. It’s absolutely phenomenal to have such an impact.”
Cavallo cites Lionel Messi as one of his inspirations on the pitch growing up, but he says he admires Justin Fashanu for inspiration in his personal life.
Fashanu became the first gay professional footballer after dropping out in 1990 while playing in England’s top flight, but the backlash he suffered eventually led him to take his own life eight years later.
“Seeing the story end in such a sad way, it hurt me and I don’t think I want people to get that perspective,” Cavallo said.
“It’s great being gay. It’s great to be a footballer and feel good about yourself. Why don’t we embrace that? And I knew I had the opportunity to change that.”
Earlier this month, former Spain internationals Iker Casillas and Carles Puyol were widely criticized after the former player posted a tweet claiming he was gay.
In a now-deleted post on his official Twitter account, Casillas wrote: “I hope I will be respected: I am gay.” In response, former Barcelona captain Carles Puyol wrote: “The time has come to tell our story, Iker.”
Casillas, who has two children with his ex-wife, deleted the post shortly after it was posted and later apologized, as did Puyol. The original tweet came amid gossip in the Spanish media linking Casillas to multiple women since his divorce.
Cavallo, who tweeted criticism of the couple at the time, said that belittling such an important topic was detrimental to people around the world who face persecution for their sexuality.
“It’s hard for people to understand when they’re not experiencing it,” he said.
“You get a lot of messages through social media from people in countries like Qatar and they say: ‘Josh, please help me. I want to get out, I want to be myself but they will criminalize me. I will get the death penalty.
“When you hear things like that, your heart breaks because those are the things that ordinary people in these countries go through.
“There are 69 countries in the world that still criminalize this, so this is a big and important topic and to see the game icon mock and mock my own tribe, it hurts me and offends me because there are many people fighting for their lives just to feel comfortable with themselves.”
Cavallo said the exchange between Casillas and Puyol proved football still had “a long way to go” to eradicate homophobia, even if the sport had recently made strides in the right direction.
“Something that can be a joke or ridicule is quite painful for people like us because we live our lives so strongly, find our identity who we are and finally we build up the courage to be who we are and who we are. comfortable in our own skin,” he said.
“Then you see people and legends of the game doing it is quite painful because we respect these people. These are the people we dream of playing against or playing with.
“So seeing people like that do things like that and [make] silly jokes like that is quite painful for myself in particular and my community.”
After announcing his sexuality last year, Cavallo said he would be “fearful” of playing in Qatar, where same-sex activity is banned.
In response to Cavallo’s fears at the time, Nasser Al Khater, chief executive of the tournament’s organizing committee, told CNN: “On the contrary, we welcome him here in the state of Qatar, we welcome him to come and see before the game even starts. World Cup … Nobody feels threatened here, nobody feels insecure.”
“I know personally, if I go there, I will be protected because I am in the public eye,” Cavallo told CNN broadcaster Amanda Davies.
“But it’s not me that I’m worried about. They’re the ones who sent me messages. It is the people who are not in the public eye who are afraid to be themselves and walk the streets.”
“To see that we are heading towards a country that criminalizes people like me … It’s quite concerning,” Cavallo added.
CNN has contacted World Cup organizers Qatar for comment on Cavallo’s comments, but received no response.
Earlier this year, former England international David Beckham became one of the most famous ambassadors for the World Cup in Qatar.
Beckham has previously been heavily criticized for accepting the role and Cavallo said he would like to see Beckham use his platform to support the LGBTQ community.
“Look, I don’t know David personally, so I can’t comment on him and his actions,” Cavallo said. “But having allies in the game helps a lot and when I come out to my dressing room, my teammates and to see the welcome – every one of them is my ally.
“It makes me very proud inside and it makes you very emotional because it’s something I’ve been fighting for for a long time. So it had a significant impact on myself and my community.
“If someone like David Beckham with his platform really surrounds us and becomes the ally that we want to be, that really helps.
“If he can take the next step and show what it means for the LGBTQ community, that would be great.”