The coach of Italy's national soccer team, Marcello Lippi, says there are no gay players in the Italian league, and haven't been in his 40 years in the sport, the Italian news agency ANSA reports.
''I believe there aren't any gays among soccer players,'' Lippi told the gossip website KlausCondicio.
In a career spanning 40 years on the field and off, the World Cup winning coach said he had never personally met a gay player or heard of one.
But he said some players might have ''tendencies'' they were forced to hide because of macho locker room culture.
''Because of the way we players are, it would be hard for a footballer to live his homosexuality in a natural way''.
If a player came out of the closet and confided in him, however, Lippi said he would be ''prepared to help him''.
In December, a rent boy claimed that he regularly had sex with pro Italian players at $2,000 a pop, but Lippi scoffs at that. "It's not believable. Every so often gossip comes out but then it turns out to have been cooked up to get attention."
Aurelio Mancuso, president of the Italian gay rights group, Arcigay, criticized Lippi's ignorance. ''As everyone knows, gays are people who practice all sports, are engaged in all professions and live in this society like everyone else,'' he said.
A better putdown was offered by Franco Grillini, a gay man and former member of parliament, who praised Lippi for saying he would not discriminate against a gay player, then added:
''Unfortunately, I'm sorry to say that Lippi's eyes must be covered in ham if he can state, with frankly misplaced certainty, that there are no gays in Italian soccer." (I hope it's genuine Parma ham covering his eyes and not some counterfeit.)
Grillini said not only were there gay players, there were also gay coaches, referees, organizers and journalists. It's pretty much a "no-duh" statement, but it's still amazing that there are people in sports who think gay people are nonexistent simply because they feel forced to stay hidden.
Paola Concia, a parliament member, urged Lippi to lead a campaign against homophobia in soccer and said his ignorant comments were not helpful.
''Does Lippi really think there's something in soccer that magically stops people feeling homosexual desires?'' she asked. ''It's the old story: pretending not to know is reassuring. It helps you to avoid tackling the issue."
If Lippi truly wants to find out the gay players in his locker room, just show them this guy and see what happens.
(Hat tip to UK Gay News for alerting us to this item.)