Josh Cavallo, the pro soccer player from Australia who came out as gay last month, said he would be scared to play in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar because of the country’s harsh laws against homosexuality.
“I read something along the lines of that [they] give the death penalty for gay people in Qatar, so it’s something I’m very scared [of] and wouldn’t really want to go to Qatar for that,” Cavallo said on a podcast with the Guardian.
“And that saddens me. At the end of the day the World Cup is in Qatar and one of the greatest achievements as a professional footballer is to play for your country, and to know that this is in a country that doesn’t support gay people and puts us at risk of our own life, that does scare me and makes me reevaluate — is my life more important than doing something really good in my career?”
Cavallo’s fears are theoretical as of now. Australia has not yet qualified for the World Cup and Cavallo has never made the Australian national team. But his comments point out the strain any LGBTQ player would have with a tournament hosted in a country that punishes same-sex conduct.
In Qatar, homosexuality is illegal and punishable by up to three years in prison and possible flogging. In addition, according to a 2019 human rights report, “Qatar operates Sharia courts in which it is technically possible for men who engage in same-sex intimacy to be sentenced to death,” adding that “it does not appear that any person has been executed for this reason or at all.”
A website run by two LGBTQ journalists rates Qatar 143rd (out of 150) among the most dangerous places for LGBTQ travelers.
Cavallo’s fears might seem overblown (in terms of being put to death), but they are legitimate. The fact that soccer’s governing body FIFA chose to hold the World Cup in a country hostile to LGBTQ rights has been an issue from the start.
FIFA’s head at the time of the decision, Sepp Blatter, tried to shrug off fears of LGBTQ fans attending the event by saying, “I would say they should refrain from any sexual activities.” He later issued a non-apology apology.
Qatar has tried to sound a more welcoming tone of late, saying in 2019 that rainbow flags would be allowed in World Cup stadiums. “I would like to assure any fan, of any gender, [sexual] orientation, religion, race to rest assured that Qatar is one of the most safe countries in the world — and they’ll all be welcome here,” the event’s chief executive said.
The World Cup was not the only subject Cavallo addressed on the Guardian podcast. He said that the reaction to his coming out, from fans and players, has been fantastic and that “it feels amazing” to not have to hide. He also said he has heard from other LGBTQ soccer players struggling with their sexuality.
Cavallo said he had been contacted by several other professional footballers who were still in the closet and seeking his advice on coming out. “There are people who have reached out to me in confidentiality and said: ‘I’m struggling with the same thing Josh,’ and they’re professional footballers too. And look, it’s something you can’t rush. [I say] you want to be yourself, and at the end of the day I wasn’t happy and now look at me, I’m honestly on top of the world.
“They like the sound of that and they say: ‘Josh, I haven’t experienced that before and I want to,’ and I say: ‘It’s in your hands, it’s your journey and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.’ I didn’t think there was but there definitely is.”