Australian footballer Josh Cavallo becomes only openly gay male player in professional game

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Australian footballer Josh Cavallo becomes only openly gay male player in professional game - AAP
Australian footballer Josh Cavallo becomes only openly gay male player in professional game - AAP

An Australian footballer has been praised across sport after becoming the only current male top flight player in the world to come out as gay.

Josh Cavallo, who plays at A-League Adelaide United, said he knows there are other players "living in silence" as he made the announcement on social media.

"I'm a footballer and I'm gay," the 21-year-old declared on Twitter, prompting supportive comments from his team, and leading figures in the game elsewhere.

Cavallo, who has represented Australia at under-20 level, said he no longer wanted to keep his sexuality a secret. "All I want to do is play football and be treated equally," he said. "Trying to perform at the best of your ability and to live this double life, it's exhausting, it's something I don't want anyone to experience."

Despite football's enormous popularity, only a few footballers have come out as gay, and mostly after retiring from playing due to the perceived risk of abuse from fans. It is 23 years since the suicide of Justin Fashanu, the first top-flight English footballer to come out as gay while still playing.

In 2013, former Leeds winger Robbie Rogers came out but said remaining in the game proved "impossible" as a result. However, Thomas Hitzlsperger, the former Aston Villa and Germany midfielder, has since said becoming chief executive of Stuttgart seven years after he came out in 2014 shows football has made "progress" on LGBT+ issues.

Gary Lineker was among footballing figures to praise Cavallo for his bravery on Wednesday. "It’s absurd that coming out is a brave thing to do in football," the former England captain said.

"It is though, and I’m full of admiration for Josh for treading a path hopefully many others will follow. I’m sure the overwhelming majority of football lovers will support him and erase the fear others may have."

Cavallo said Fashanu's case had preyed on his mind as he considered whether to come out.

"I remember reading about Justin Fashanu becoming the first male pro footballer to come out, in the 1990s, and then eight years later taking his own life - that did concern me," he said. But Cavallo described the support from the club, team-mates and officials as "immense", saying he wanted to be a positive role model for gay footballers.

"It's OK to be gay and play football - I want to show all the other people who are struggling and are scared," he said. He added that he had been worried that coming out may negatively impact his career, saying that he knew there were other players "living in silence".

"I want to help change this, to show that everyone is welcome in the game of football, and deserves the right to be their authentic self," he wrote.

"It is astonishing to know that there are currently no gay professional footballers who are out and actively playing, not only in Australia, but around the world. Hopefully this will change in the near future."

Antoine Griezmann and Gerard Piqué were also among footballers past and present to voice support. "I don’t have the pleasure to know you personally but I want to thank you for this step that you take," Piqué tweeted. "The world of football is far behind and you are helping us move forward."

Monash University researcher Erik Denison praised Cavallo, saying his coming out was a significant moment that could become a catalyst for eradicating homophobia in Australian sport.

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