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World's only out gay top-tier footballer Josh Cavallo: 'I want to be a role model'

Football's newest star talks 2022's World Cup in Qatar and the locker room reaction to his coming out in the Attitude 101 issue.

2021-12-02

Words: Adam Crafton; pictures: Leon Tran

On 27 October, Australian footballer Josh Cavallo made a life-changing and, he hopes, game-changing revelation.

In a clip posted on Twitter, the Adelaide United defender explained that he is gay. The video has now been viewed more than 11 million times on Twitter alone, while his Instagram following has spiked from 10,000 before his “coming out” to almost 150,000 by the latter part of November.

In a flash, he has become the world’s only openly gay footballer competing at the highest level of football. As a result, his voice has, overnight, claimed authority and relevance. He is now invited to opine on the polemic debates of our times, whether they be a World Cup in the deeply homophobic environs of Qatar or the ongoing culture war inflicted upon transgender people in the West.

As Josh leads the Sport category in the Attitude 101 issue - out now to download and to order globally - the young sportsman says he wants to use his new-found platform to bring about change: “I want to represent the LGBTQ community, to be a role model and an icon for future generations. I want to be a voice heard loud and clear, to make sure everyone is accepted within society.”

Josh wears sweatshirt and shorts, both by Yniform, socks by Prada, shoes by Converse (Photography: Leon Tran; Styling: Joylon Mason at Viviens Creative; Makeup: Owen Joyce)

He goes on: “Growing up, I did not have that guidance. I remember reading about Justin Fashanu, and we all know how that story ended, in that he took his life. It was not a nice story to hear. I had started to feel that I was gay and I struggled to fit in in that way. There was nobody to look up to and I did struggle with that.

"There were times I was saying to myself, I might have to turn away from the game, or I will not be able to both be myself as a gay person and do what I love to do in playing football.”

As a teenager, he did not confide in anyone - family, friends or team mates - about these feelings. Cavallo may be in his early twenties, part of the TikTok generation, but he says society had still left him “thinking that I should be ashamed of myself, that I should have a wife, that I should have a conventional family and kids, that it should all be traditional”.

And so he repressed his true identity. He did not access mental health support services for help, either. “I did not want to tell anyone, not even one person,” he confides.

"By removing myself from situations, it became a very isolating and lonely process. I was by myself all the time, which is not good for anyone’s mental health. I didn’t want to continue that.

“I had hidden it from everything,” he continues. “It was when I was at home, with thinking time, or crying myself to sleep, when I was very sad."

However, in the Adelaide dressing room, there have been no negative responses to his coming out, Cavallo says.

 Josh wears own football kit (Photography: Leon Tran; Styling: Joylon Mason at Viviens Creative; Makeup: Owen Joyce)

“Once I told the team, shortly before I told the world, some of the boys were getting emotional. They felt bad that I had felt I had to hide myself for such a long time. They gave me hugs and said they were proud of me. The best thing was, five minutes later, we were all sat in the changing room and talking about football again.

"That’s how I wanted it to be. I wanted them to accept it and move on. I am still their mate and a footballer. Nobody has acted differently around me.”

Despite having little contact with the LGBTQ community before coming out, since making his public announcement Josh has wasted no time in speaking out about some of the most pressing LGBTQ issues of the day, such as anti-gay laws in Qatar - host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup - and transgender inclusion.

Since speaking out, has Cavallo received any reassurances from either FIFA or the Qatari organisers of the World Cup?

“Unfortunately it has not happened yet,” Cavallo reveals. “I am looking forward to possibly hearing something about it. It is a huge topic. I stand with my LGBTQ family, particularly in the Middle East or other countries around the world where people have to hide their sexuality or gender identity due to discrimination and human rights violations.

Josh wears sweatshirt and shorts, both by Yniform, socks by Prada, shoes by Converse (Photography: Leon Tran; Styling: Joylon Mason at Viviens Creative; Makeup: Owen Joyce)

“My hope is that a World Cup in Qatar could help to shed a light and ignite a dialogue for LGBTQ Qataris and push their government to create a change, against the criminalisation and discrimination towards our community. I want to help that change."

He is resolute in his plans to remain an advocate. “I want to become the person who I did not have when I was growing up, the gay person that people can see,” he says.

Despite the lack of openly gay players, he believes football is making progress. “It is important that clubs and players are seen to have reached out on social media. These are huge clubs and institutions; the Premier League, Barcelona, Manchester United and Liverpool, for example. It is important these voices are heard and that we hear these people say that it is OK.

"For [Liverpool manager] Jürgen Klopp to say in a press conference that (gay players) would be welcome in his changing room, and he would never cross an eye on that, it is fantastic and shows how, from the top down, it can be accepted.”

Read the full interview in the Attitude 101 issue, which includes the FREE Attitude 2022 calendar, presented in association with Taimi.

Subscribe in print and get your first three issues for just £1 each, or digitally for just over £1.50 per issue.