Out gay sports stars Gus Kenworthy, Adam Rippon and Josh Cavallo have all sat alongside RuPaul as special guest judges on episodes of TV’s Drag Race.

The latest addition to the long-running series’ list of athlete appearances is more surprising — Ciro Immobile, the captain of the Italian national soccer team and one of Serie A’s greatest-ever goalscorers.

The 33-year-old Lazio striker accepted an invitation alongside his wife Jessica Melena, a fashionista and influencer, to critique the category ‘Red Passion Week’ on the third season of “Drag Race Italia.” The episode aired Friday on MTV in Italy, and on Paramount+.

“Drag Race Italia” is the eighth international version of the franchise and is hosted by Priscilla, one of the country’s most famous queens.

Her playful flirting with Immobile certainly makes for an entertaining watch, but aside from that, attracting a household name from the world of football represents quite a coup for the show.

“What a handsome man! Having someone like you here is very important for us,” Silvana della Magliani tells Immobile, when he and Melena visit the ‘werk room’ to meet the queens after their runway presentations.

“The whole drag family thanks you,” says Melissa Bianchini. “Your support and your presence means a lot because our mission is to take the drag world further.”

A few weeks ago, Bianchini and the other competing queens were invited to the San Siro to watch Inter Milan’s 2-2 draw with Bologna. Paramount+ is Inter’s shirt sponsor and the pictures of the queens in full drag, watching the game from pitchside, went viral on social media.

The queens were sat near the Inter bench to watch the Serie A clash against Bologna last month.

The show’s forays into football come at a time when LGBTQ rights in the country are at increased risk under the right-wing government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her Brothers of Italy party.

Earlier this year, city councils were directed to stop including same-sex couples on birth certificates. Then in July, an extension to the law on surrogacy — which was already illegal within Italy — was approved, threatening the criminalization of those who go overseas to have children via surrogacy. The Italian Senate still needs to ratify the bill, but with the Brothers dominating the house, approval is expected.

Meanwhile, unlike almost every other major nation in Western Europe, there is no equal marriage legislation in Italy, and the prospect of that changing any time soon looks slim. Civil unions have been permissible since 2016.

Despite this, the most recent public opinion polls from the Pew Research Center show 74% of Italian adults support same-sex marriage rights — an even higher percentage than the U.K., where equal marriage legislation was passed over a decade ago.

Against this backdrop, Immobile’s venture into the world of Drag Race takes on additional symbolism. Referring to the invite he and Melena received, he tells the queens: “We’re happy that you have chosen us to send out this message of freedom.”

La Prada replies to Immobile: “It’s a message that must also continue on the pitch and in the locker room.”

The challenges faced by gay and bi footballers in the hypermasculine culture of Italian men’s football have also been in the news of late, stemming from the betting scandal that has recently engulfed the game.

Arch-provocateur Fabrizio Corona, whose ‘Dillinger News’ blog has leaked names of various players alleged to have taken part in illegal gambling, has also hinted at forthcoming ‘scoops’ about closeted stars. He has already outed one World Cup-winning player who has never publicly spoken about his sexuality.

When the queens’ visit to the Inter-Bologna game was generating interest, Paramount+ tweeted to say: “Football comes in all colors and we wanted to represent them by bringing a special flag into the stadium: that of Drag Race Italia.”

A report in Corriere della Sera said fans mobbed them for selfies and photos and the only boos that rang out from a crowd of 74,000 were for the visiting Bologna players when they walked out onto the pitch.

Amy Krania, another of the queens, summed it up. “To be here doing what we do, we’ve demonstrated that we don’t lack courage,” she said.

Hopefully, Immobile’s show of allyship will also give heart to those struggling to be themselves within the Italian men’s game.