Top FIFA referee Igor Benevenuto comes out as gay

The announcement comes just months before the World Cup is due to be held in Qatar, a controversial location considering its anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes.

Referee Igor Benevenuto in action.
Image: Twitter: @elclosetlgbt

Top FIFA-ranked referee Igor Benevenuto has come out as gay. The 41-year-old Brazilian made the announcement during a recent Nos Armários dos Vestiários podcast episode, saying that he is finally ready to be himself.

“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,” he revealed.

“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,” he added.

“As of today, I will no longer be the versions of Igor that I created […] I won’t be Igor, character referee, character for friends, character for family, character for neighbours, character for straight society. I will just be Igor, male, gay, who respects people and their choices. No masks. Only Igor. No filter and finally myself.”

In a statement to GloboEsporte, FIFA expressed its support for the official, saying: “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’.”

While multiple news sources claim that he is the first FIFA-ranked referee to have made the brave decision, Outsports reports that Norwegian official Tom Harald Hagen did so in October 2020.

Benevenuto’s revelation comes just months before the 2022 World Cup is due to take place in Qatar, a nation known for its anti-LGBTQ+ policies and attitudes. FIFA has faced a lot of criticism for its decision to host the tournament in the state, but the organisation’s president Gianni Infantino maintains that “Everyone will see that everyone is welcome here in Qatar, even if we speak about LGBTQ+”. Qatari authorities have also “committed to delivering an inclusive FIFA World Cup experience that is welcoming, safe and accessible to all”.

The Brazilian referee follows in the footsteps of two Scottish officials, Craig Napier and Lloyd Wilson, who similarly came out earlier this summer. It seems that there is an increasing number of queer male athletes making the brave move, and this is perhaps an indicator that attitudes are changing within the sector.

Many teams, clubs, and governing bodies within various sports are working to become more inclusive of LGBTQ+ members. On Wednesday, July 13, the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) published an article surrounding inclusive language, interviewing gay former player Graeme McInerney, who now coaches with St Mary’s College RFC.

Speaking on the issue, McInerney said: “In a squad of 20-30 players there’s a high chance that someone is gay or bisexual etc., and there are others who certainly would cringe when homophobic language is being used. 

“The world we live in can be a bit too PC at times, but there is still definitely a necessity for coaches, teammates and role models to be more mindful around language and about who might be affected negatively by what they say,” he continued.

“Slurs and throwaway comments can do untold damage. This is especially important for those in coaching or team leadership roles who set the tone for inclusion. We set the example. You can never know everything that’s going on in your players’ lives.”

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