When Swedish footballer Antonio Hysén came out ten years ago, he was one of the first professional footballers to do so anywhere in the world, and it became a big story. A decade on, he says some things have improved but more LGBTI+ footballers need to come out because, he says, ‘we can’t just talk and talk and nothing happens’.

Antonio has used the anniversary of his coming out to give a wide-ranging and in-depth exclusive interview about his experiences over the last ten years. The interview is out today [Thursday 4 March] on the #YouAreIncluded Podcast for Copenhagen 2021, which hosts WorldPride and EuroGames in Denmark and his native Sweden later this year.

The 30 year-old Torslanda IK defender was surprised by the support he received from fellow players, coaches and managers, and says that the warnings he was given – that coming out would damage his career – came to nothing. In recent years he’s been contacted more and more by professional sportspeople who say he’s given them hope and has become a role model.

“Hearing stories, like Danish professional ice hockey player Jon Lee Olsen hearing about me and coming out, that makes me really happy because that’s what I want. I want people to feel welcomed. I want them to feel safe. But I also want them to know that it’s all about them, not about what everybody else thinks. It’s about them, about their health, and that they can just live happily and do whatever the whatever they want and don’t give a shit about what people think.”

He says there have undoubtedly been improvements in professional football. “A few people have come out and that’s great. The debate is stronger than ever now, we’ve overcome many things. The Premier League have the wristbands, the people, the campaigns and that’s great. Obviously, I want a lot more, but a lot of things that happened and a lot of people are talking about LGBTI+ inclusion in sport a lot more than 10 years ago. And I see more positivity. I see a brighter future.”

But whilst the campaigns against homophobia in football are important and having some effect, he says “it’s time for someone else to come out because we can’t just keep talking and talking”.

“You’re perfectly, perfectly normal and loved and there’s so many more people than yourself,” he says. “That’s how I feel now and that’s what I’ve always felt. Doesn’t matter what anybody says. I know that I have more brothers and sisters and it’s the same for all the other LGBTI+ people out there.”

“I want people to know that they’re loved and to know that there is a lot of more people out there who are the same and that you can be perfectly normal and fine and play and still have a lot of people that are going to love you. And if you have people on the stands who scream stuff and do stuff, we are also here to make sure that the discrimination is going to be dealt with.”

Above all, he says, “it’s important to know that you’re safe and there are people who are by your side and will support you”.

Antonio ends the interview by inviting his colleagues in professional football to join him at WorldPride and EuroGames in Copenhagen and Malmö this August, where thousands of LGBTI+ athletes will compete in 29 sports tournaments, including Football.

“It’s going to take time, but we can do it together and tackle homophobia together. But why don’t you just join me at EuroGames and WorldPride at Copenhagen 2021? I’ll be there. We can do it together. I’ll be by your side. I welcome you with open arms and we can do all of this together.”

Listen to Antonio’s interview here:

Listen to “08. Footballer Antonio Hysén on 10 years of being out” on Spreaker.

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