After reading an article on how Germany’s squad on 2010 World Cup was a bunch of gays, and then I came across a translated article on LJ on gay soccer player in Bundesliga, it was an interesting article.
“A coming out would be my death“
It’s widely believed that gay football professionals don’t exist. But statistically at least one out of eleven Bundesliga players should be gay. RUND knows three gay professionals, but names can’t and shouldn’t be named in this story – the climate in football is still that homophobic that the consequences for these players would be devastating
Enver* gave up. The homosexual football professional who told RUND about his hidden and angst-filled life in Germany two years ago isn’t playing in the Bundesliga anymore. Far too infrequently Enver had been able to show his immense football skills, always feeling hounded and being torn between the desire to live his homosexuality but also to not be a disgrace to his club. Depressed, he left the country that made him wealthy but never gave him the feeling of being able to live the way he wanted to: as a man who loves men. Because this is still the biggest possible taboo in homophobic football, where men and women starting together in a team seems more realistic than an out gay player being accepted in a professional team.
Fates like Enver’s are no exception in German football, although according to the official lifestyle and mindset no gays can exist in the tough men’s sport. Or are allowed to exist – a popular theory is that gay footballers quit of their own choice because they can’t feel comfortable in a world where ‘faggots’ can’t exist. A misapprehension as for some the love for football is greater than the insecurity about the ability to cope with the own sexual orientation that is generally frowned upon.
RUND knows three homosexual players from the first and second Bundesliga. But names couldn’t and shouldn’t be named here. As long as ‘faggots’ are talked about with such hate and scorn, the danger is too great when someone gets outed publicly against his own will. So they behave as inconspicuous as the associations, most clubs and footballers want them to: just as if they don’t exist. For years, homosexual football professionals have sought advice from a sports psychologist. Players who belong without a doubt to the best that there are in Germany are amongst them, too. “I know from my counselling that these players see for themselves the only choice in leading a double life, hiding their homosexuality from the trainer, the own team and the management. This is a huge psychosocial burden and this can also be the reason why someone approaches me,” the psychologist clarifies.
And in 43 years of Bundesliga no heterosexual team mate had to shower with their ass to the wall in fear of an unwanted penetration, which is one of the most popular clichés. As the cultural studies academic Tanja Eggeling says, “All imaginable fears of gays get mobilized there and thus forbid it to confront the topic.” The picture of the sexually horny gay, always ready to feel up a team mate in the spacious functional rooms of the stadiums is a bitter parody of the real life. While a coming out is acknowledged casually in some society circles and gay politicians or TV stars can arrive at parties with their life partners without any askance looks, gay footballers live in secret.
“Of course I feel shite. Even my wife doesn’t know anything about it,” a despairing second-league professional tries to describe his absurd life style. Officially, he’s married, but lives in a steady relationship with a school friend since his youth. “But what can I do? An outing would be my death.” The first league professional who is also in a long-lasting relationship is fed up with the fact that a girlfriend who is in the know accompanies him to team celebrations and Christmas parties to seem “normal”. “The white lies and the secrecy are incredibly encumbering.” Fake marriages which can also include children are a means to maintain the model of a potent and heterosexual football professional. The sports psychologist knows that it is rare for a player to play on his highest level under these circumstances. “It’s a continuous problem where the focus is only on managing this lifestyle more or less well. These are also no individual cases, there are about as many players as shown in the statistics of the total population.” The ratio of homosexuals should be more than ten per cent.
Frightened and anonymous, gay professionals often frequent dating websites and gay chats on the internet where penis lengths, sexual role preferences and favourite fetishes are displayed in dozens. These virtual discounters of sexual desires and special preferences are “not really a comfortable place”, as a gay Bundesliga professional explains, “but it’s the only possibility for me to get to know other men anonymously and perhaps to meet them, too.” In doing so, he tries to “interrogate” his chat partner if he’s interested in football and could recognize him. But a residual risk is still there: “I’m jeopardizing my career every moment.”
Tatjana Eggeling, who is habilitating on “Homosexuality in sports”, noticed a paradoxical practice concerning this topic especially in the last two years: Homosexuality of footballers has developed into one of the most popular media topics, but despite that the daily homophobia hasn’t decreased. “A increased public cognition of the topic can be a hope for a positive effect. When you start to talk about something, you can expect changes, too.” But for the academic it is critical that it is the yellow press that is lusting after an outing of a professional. “The voyeuristic interest is huge. They’ll hound the first who outs himself for weeks. The price for a coming out would probably be too high, I wouldn’t recommend any player to do it.” On the other hand, Eggeling knows about the internal struggles and conflicts of many players. “To do something that you are very good at and also skilled in, but by doing so having to hide a central part of your personality produces an enormous pressure to perform.”
And the rumour mill is running at top speed, every gay community names its icons regardless of their actual sexual orientation. Many a long-time and proven heterosexual Bundesliga player gets the shock of his life when he learns that he’s perceived as a hundred per cent gay amongst gay-lesbian fan clubs, journalists and even colleagues. “If my name even gets only hinted at in this context, I’ll exhaust any legal means available,” one such player declares. This climate of speculation has already spread to possible framing: A big yellow press tabloid offered the Berlin journalist and book author Axel Schock even twice a formidable sum if he’d out a professional whom he knew to be gay. “They knew his name, too,” Schock says, “they just didn’t want to get their hands dirty because this would have meant the player’s definite career end. I’m convinced that such players are forced to cooperate with the media.” This is also what one of the players confirms: “There are journalists who know that I’m gay, but keep mum. In exchange for that, though, they expect that I provide information – regularly.”
A dodgy situation where you can’t hope for help from team mates, the club’s directors or the association. At least the former Bundesliga player Tanja Walther was in charge of a workshop about homophobia at the anti-racism conference of the UEFA which took place in Barcelona last February, which would still have been unthinkable some years ago. “Homophobia and sexism are still as much a part of football as the offside rule,” is one of her findings. At least the UEFA is the only association that has realized that to broach and prevent the issue of homophobia in the stadiums is also important for customer loyalty strategy, as homosexuals have also discovered football and are regarded as a potential clientele that could fill the stadiums.
The world association FIFA is still avoiding the topic: a strict ban got imposed on men kissing on the pitch. “The reasoning of the FIFA is absurd,” thunders Franco Grillini, representative of the left-wing Ulivo union in the Italian parliament and president of the national gay movement Arcigay. “They said it was because of STDs, but everyone knows that you can’t transmit these through kissing.” By doing so, the world association adds fuel to the fear of gays, Grillini says. “Football just happens to be the big triumph of the masculinity cult, the highest expression of macho behaviour.”
Measures against homophobia also aren’t on the priority list of the German Football Association (DFB). DFB president Theo Zwanziger who is now addressing the topic racism openly whenever it comes up, doesn’t want to say anything about the discrimination of minorities in football in general. The DFB and the DFL have created a task force to fight against violence, xenophobia and racism, but the homophobic outgrowths get ignored. It took six years until the DFB implemented the anti-racism paragraph proposed by the union of active football fans (Baff) in 1994. In Frankfurt, they haven’t responded to the homophobia catalogue proposed in 2002 yet. “The DFB can’t afford to plead ignorance about racism anymore, also because of image reasons,” Gerd Dembowski, fan activist and football author, reckons. “But homophobia, you can still close the eyes to. It’s even below racism, women and handicapped people in the hierarchy of discriminations.”
At the same time, the situation in the German stadiums is alarming, as Baff-representative Martin Endemann knows from weekly experience: “There’s just no consciousness about homophobia. A lot of choreographies are about the opponent being gay. Whole parts of stadiums spread homophobic contents – if they were racist, there’d be a huge uproar. If the DFB would include homophobia in its penalty catalogue, they’d have to close almost every Bundesliga stadium and end every second match prematurely.” Even the few gay-lesbian fan clubs like the Hertha Junxx in Berlin, the Rainbow-Borussen in Dortmund or the Stuttgart Junxx weren’t able to exert a lasting influence on the gay-hostile atmosphere in the Bundesliga stadiums.
The British football association, which has already been a paragon for other associations with its measures against racism in British stadiums, is also making inroads concerning homophobia. Since 2001, the articles say that the association takes disciplinary action against discrimination because of sexual orientation. Since then, rowdies yelling homophobic slurs have gotten expelled frequently from football stadiums. Two Norwich City fans even had to go to jail for a short time and got sentenced to a parole for two years subsequently.
On club level, Manchester City has started to break up the gay taboo. The club undersigned a Charta that turns it into a “gay friendly” club. In exchange for that, City pays a six-figure sum to Stonewall, the mighty organisation registered in London that defends the rights of gays and lesbians in Great Britain. At Manchester City, gays shall now be equal. Gay personnel gets hired, the gay scene of the city invited into the stadium. That’s still the big exception in England: just a short time ago, the BBC asked all 20 coaches of the Premier League three questions about the topic homosexuality – no one answered, not even Stuart Pearce, the Manchester City coach.
The suspicion that gay professionals could exist on the pitch is still regarded as a catastrophe in the mind of British fans. But in the case of Justin Fashanu it was even a Premier League professional who outed himself publicly in 1990. Eight years later, Fashanu hanged himself in a London garage. “To be gay and a person of the public life is harsh,” he wrote in his suicide note. ”If someone’d out himself in this day, he wouldn’t have the best life,” national player Robert Huth from the FC Middlesborough paraphrases the unchanged homophobic atmosphere, “he couldn’t enter the stadium as unconcerned as before. Even the opponents would provoke him because of it.”
In the Italian Serie A homosexuality is still regarded as an outrageous taboo. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Rumours about the supposed homosexuality of football stars are afloat again and again. If they get overboard, the clubs intervene. Ambitious top models and showgirls are called for then. The stars let themselves be photographed with the starlets, marriages get arranged where children are included in the salary, too. Some model agencies are said to have specialised in this market segment. ”We know that some stars of Italian football are gay and are forced to hide it,” Arcigay president Franco Grillini says, “players even get forced by their clubs to marry. The players are afraid that their career could stop abruptly.”
Even Sandro Mazzola, who was a national player with Inter Mailand in the 60ies and 70ies, knows about the existence of homosexual players: “Of course I met gay professionals. One of them even became a famous trainer. It was known that he was gay and no one was disturbed by it.” And even the hardest and most humourless Italian terrier, national player Gennaro Gattuso, agrees with Mazzola: “There are two or three gays in 5,000 players. But that isn’t because football is that manly. I know gays who give more than everything on the pitch.”
The Brazilian former national player Marcos Vampeta, who had a short intermezzo at Inter Mailand and is now playing with the Brazilian first league club Goiás EC, outed himself a short time ago, just like his countryman Túlio Maravilha, who’s one of the best forwards of the Brazilian league with 500 goals. Vampeta had often frequented the respective scene bars in the Milan San Siro quarter. The gay scene is also active especially in the neighbourhood of the Meazza stadium where many Milan players live. Some professionals also start the rumours by their own doing: Mark Iuliano, former defender of Juventus Turin, posed naked for a gay magazine. Matteo Sereni, goalie of the second league club FBC Treviso, did the same. And world champion Alberto Gilardino of the AC Mailand who got nominated as a sex symbol by the national gay organisation, was very happy about this honour, combined with the declaration that he would love to lobby for campaigns against the discrimination of minorities: “Everyone should be the way he wants without being excluded because of it.”
In other countries the topic is approached more tolerantly, too: in France Vikash Dhorasoo, national player of Paris Saint-Germain, took over patronage of the gay football club Paris Foot Gay (see box on page 23). In Sweden, the third league player Peter Mattias Jansson outed himself three years ago already. And in the Netherlands, there even were three openly gay referees: Ignace van Swieten, John Blankenstein and Jacques D’Ancona. The last one is currently practising as referee observer and referee trainer with the Dutch football organisation. “I know some gay Dutch professionals, even in the national squad,” the recently deceased UEFA referee Blankenstein told the RUND magazine in one of his last interviews, “they live with wife and children and betray the whole world and, most importantly, themselves. If the first one would out himself and withstand the slurs, then that would initiate a chain reaction: one by one, they’d do the same. And then even the most ignorant would realize that there are gays in football.”
In German women’s football, it’s still an open secret that same-sex relationships are rather the rule than the exception. Many German national players live with a partner which goes without saying amongst team mates, as told by a player. “Everyone knows who’s accompanying whom to the Christmas party of the club and that it’s the girlfriend,” a lesbian Bundesliga player tells RUND, “the automatic perception of a female footballer as a lesbian has lost some of its potency. Because of the successes of the national team women’s football has turned into an accepted sport.” The fear to be the first lesbian player in the public’s eye and to be regarded as the token lesbian for years is still prevalent amongst the players, though. Some fear repercussions for their career in sports or that sponsors could cancel the private advertising contracts. “The stress would be too huge,” a player says. The DFB could also cause stress, as former Bundesliga player Tanja Walther believes: “There are unwritten laws since the mid-90ies which probably are still operating: if you out yourself, you lose your steady place in the national team.”
The voice cracks, the man is indignant: “There’s no homosexuality here. And you can be absolutely sure of this: no one fucks around as much as our players.” The spokesperson was answering a RUND inquiry by phone: All 36 Bundesliga clubs were written in to if they planned to stand up against the homophobic climate in the stadiums – only eight clubs reacted. But apart from the token gay and president of the FC St. Pauli, Corny Littmann, who generates a lot of media attention, two other officials from the management of German professional clubs are also known to RUND who don’t want to speak out on their homosexuality. A fact that Tanja Eggeling can’t understand: “What would happen, anyway? They could out themselves much easier from their position of power than a professional and could thus contribute to a change in perceptions. Their existences wouldn’t be endangered in the same extent as it would be with players.”
The discrimination of homosexuals will stay a part of football in the long run as long as homophobia gets hushed up in the associations, in the clubs and amongst the players. Only Michael Preetz, former national player and head of the licence players’ department of Hertha BSC Berlin, allows himself to be cited in that context: “Homosexuals exist in every social class and in sports, too. I’m against any form of discrimination, including homophobia.” Most German professional clubs have included the anti racism paragraph in their articles, but the one against sexual discrimination is found only with very few. Even designated social and liberal minded national players decline any comment on homophobia. No one knows anything and doesn’t want to know about anything. “If heterosexual players would say that gays are no problem for them, that would be important,” Tanja Walther believes, “but this shows that the atmosphere can’t be right. This way, nothing will change at all.” (* Names changed by the editorial department)
Box on page 23:
First step on a long way
Vikash Dhorasoo, heterosexual player of the first league club Paris Saint-Germain, sponsors the gay football club PFG. A strong engagement against homophobia, which is still a big exception in football
It sounds harsh, but Vikash Dhorasoo had gotten used to the discriminations early on. He grew up in Caucriville, a workers’ quarter of Le Havre with 25,000 inhabitants. If he didn’t get “hunted by skins”, entering discotheques was forbidden to the Frenchman of Indian descendant. “And that isn’t even counting unexpected police controls,” as the national player of Paris Saint-Germain recounts, “so I always felt close to people who rebel, who defend their agenda. And thus it’s just natural that I want to be in contact with minorities.” So, sponsoring the Paris Foot Gay (PFG), the club that was founded in December 2003 and where homosexuals, bisexuals and heterosexuals play football together, was an obvious choice for Dhorasoo, “without having to deliberate a lot about it.” Today the 33-year-old is patron of the PFG, where Jews, Arabs, blacks, whites, merchants, clerks, students and warehousemen aged 19 to 42 years play. “The diversity helps us,” says Brahim Nait-Balk, one of the two coaches, “there’s nothing worse for a gay than feeling isolated.”
The PFG is also starting its own initiatives like the set-up of a research institute about the topic homophobia in football or regular visits to schools to sensitize the youth. From time to time, these actions evoke hostilities: “Last month in Villepinte, the teachers were shocked by the vehemence of the questions,” PFG co-founder Pascal Brethes says, who has heard slurs from pupils, too, which isn’t uncommon. “But last year a boy had his coming-out in front of all his classmates and thanked us. In such cases, you’re happy that you exist.”
Vikash Dhorasoo has often asked himself if the coming-out of a professional “would be worth the trouble if by doing so, he’d get shunted and lose everything,” as the vice world champion told RUND. “I don’t know. There are just many people who have difficulties to accept the fact that some are different.” If you ask him about the possible repercussions of his sponsorship, especially the inavoidable sarcasm of outsiders, the former player of Milan and Lyon admits that he never thought about it. “That Vikash gets involved is a very strong message to homosexual players who are in hiding, to the players and the football world in general,” Pascal Brethes believes. If more would do the same, the wish of the PFG founders could come true one day: “That your guy can come into your locker room and hug you, no matter if you’re in the professional or amateur league. But until that’ll happen, it’s still a long way to go.”
Box on page 25:
”Yikes, now we’re playing against gays”
Ralf Schmidt is midfielder and co-founder of the Streetboys, who are taking part in the official leagues as the only gay team under the name “Team München”. The 41-year-old flight attendant about slurs in the ‘Kreisklasse’ C and the world championship
Mr Schmidt, you set up a football club for homosexuals in 1994. Why?
_I wanted to play football with like-minded people. The decision to enter the official leagues in 2001 got discussed very controversially in the team. Some saw it as too performance-related, but we decided that we wanted to give it a try in the end.
What were the reactions of the adversary clubs and fans?
_The opponents knew that we’d be in the league because of the Munich press. Some actually thought, “Yikes, now we’re playing against gays, are they going to run up in high heels and skirts?” When we won 10 to 0, we sometimes also heard, “Now that we’re already losing against gays, we can pack up just the same.” Even today, we still hear such things from time to time.
What do you have to listen to on the pitch?
_In a few instances it happens that the opponent says after a touch or a foul, “Don’t touch me, you faggot!” But the referee mostly stops that. Or we answer with a victory.
Have you been open about your homosexuality in your past clubs?
_I’ve always been very offensive about me being gay and haven’t had any bad experiences. My team mate doesn’t think, “I’ve got a nice pass by a gay,” but, “Nice pass!” In the end, it’s the performance that counts.
What did your team mates have to go through before they joined the Streetboys?
_About half of us played in hetero teams previously. Most kept their homosexuality to themselves, though, or just told close friends in the team. The only one besides me who was also open about his homosexuality also didn’t have any negative experiences – and he had played somewhere in the countryside near Rosenheim. I can only advise everyone to be offensive. The more open you are about it, the less reason you give others to attack you. The fear that something could happen is much bigger than what really happens. Gerald Asamoah’s skin colour doesn’t interest anyone anymore – save some idiots perhaps.
And career-wise, what is life like?
_We’re now third of the C class of Munich, the first two are ascending. We also take part in international tournaments often. My biggest triumph was the world championship of the gay football teams in 1996. Last year we got to be at least fifth at the World Cup.
The article was translated from a Germany magazine Rund and the translation was done by Ninamalfoy at LJ (Thank you so much).
IMO, I understand on how a gay soccer player would choose a closeted life. I mean, soccer is like the most popular game in the world, and that means the fans are not limited to the countried of which gay is accepted, but also on the countries where gay is not only a taboo subject but also can be sentenced to death *shudders*.
Anyway, reading this, I remember two gay movies I’ve seen about gay soccer player, the first one is Manner Wie Wir (Guys and Balls), a German comedy movie of which I’ve done a review for this movie here. The second one is Strákarnir Okkar (Eleven Men Out), an Iceland drama movie about a soccer star who outs himself just because he needs to become a cover/headline on a magazine.
Anyway, here are some soccer pitchers just for fun 🙂