Brazilian referee Igor Benevenuto has revealed that he is gay during an interview on the Brazilian football podcast Nos Armários dos Vestiários, becoming the latest figure in men’s football to come out after Australian Josh Cavallo, who plays for Adelaide United, and Jake Daniels, who represents Blackpool in the English Football League.
Benevenuto, 41, who is on FIFA’s list of international referees, is set to officiate at this autumn’s World Cup in Qatar where homosexuality is illegal. He will become the only openly gay participant in the competition.
Because of the tournament host’s criminalisation of homosexuality, many fan groups from both within and outside the LGBTQ+ community have expressed concern for the safety of LGBTQ+ supporters: some groups from England and Wales have refused to travel to Qatar, while a friendly between Championship side Watford and the Qatari national team, due to take place last week in Austria, was called off after pressure from Proud Hornets, Watford’s LGBT fans’ group.
Benevenuto told the podcast that, as a youngster he hated football and, without the natural skills to become a player, he decided to become a referee to fit in. He explained: “Football was a thing for ‘men’ and from early on I knew that I was gay. There was no better place to hide my sexuality. Playing was not a long-term option, so I went along the only possible path: I became a referee.”
He continued: “Being a referee put me in a position of power that I needed. Did I choose to hide my sexuality? Yes. But it’s more than that. I put myself in position of being the owner of the match, an authority figure and that automatically makes you a person of strength, full of masculinity.”
Benenvenuto went on to explain that there were several gay people in the men’s game, saying: “[There are] many homosexual people in the world of football, but 99.9 per cent of them are in the closet.
“There are referees, players, managers, married people, with children, divorcees, people with double lives…there’s everything…we exist and we deserve the right to speak about it, to live normally.”