Igor Benevenuto, a FIFA soccer referee in Brazil, has come out publicly as gay.
In a stirring statement to Globo Esporte, Benevenuto, 41, talked about the pain of living in a culture and a religion that rejected homosexuality.
“The Bible only leaves two options: heterosexual marriage or a celibate life,” he said. “Anything other than that is abominable. For a while, I believed that there was something very wrong with me, because while I respected the church, this doctrine failed miserably with what I felt. I remained the same, only without the right to express myself. A layered Igor.”
He also talked about men’s soccer being a place of “men,” and how it was the perfect place to hide who he was.
“There was no more perfect place to hide my sexuality,” Benevenuto said. “But playing was not a lasting option, so I took the only possible path: I became a referee.”
It’s a refrain we’ve heard before, including from former NFL player Ryan O’Callaghan, who said he played football to hide his sexuality.
FIFA issued a statement of support for Benevenuto:
“Fifa welcomes and supports referee Igor Benevenuto and his decision to come out,” the statement read. “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.”
The timing is certainly of note, with the World Cup taking place in Qatar in just a few months. Gay sex is illegal in Qatar, and FIFA has been experienced heightened scrutiny of late for the selection of Qatar as the World Cup host. Officials in Qatar have said LGBTQ people will not be harassed while attending the World Cup. We’ll see.
Regardless, Benevenuto wants to be his whole self now, out and proud and ready to live the second half of his life inspiring others in soccer to be their true selves.
“As of today, I will no longer be the versions of Igor that I created,” he said. “I won’t be Igor, character referee, character for friends, character for family, character for neighbors, 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.”
Previously, FIFA referee Tom Harald Hagen came out publicly in Norway.
Note: Google translated Portuguese to English for this report.