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FIFA’s first gay referee Igor Benevenuto believes up to 40 percent of footballers are LGBTQ+

"You would be surprised at just who is homosexual in this industry," Igor Benevenuto said.

Words: Emily Maskell; pictures: YouTube

Brazilian FIFA official Igor Benevenuto has said he believes that up to 40 percent of those involved in football are homosexual or bisexual.

The 41-year-old made history last month as the first FIFA-ranked referee in history to come out as gay.

Now, in an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, the Brazilian has shared that he believes there are many LGBTQ+ footballers and officials (including managers, players, and referees) in the game who are just not out yet.

“Thirty to forty percent of them are homosexual or bisexual, or have done something at one time with another man,” Benevenuto said, the MailOnline reported.

He continued: “You would be surprised at just who is homosexual in this industry.”

Benevenuto, who has been a referee for 24 years, also opened up about his experience of prejudiced discrimination in his home country of Brazil where he explains: “homosexuality is seen as an illness similar to alcoholism, which can be overcome.”

“I believed that for years. I suffered from depression and went through dark times,” he added.  “I used to pray to God to free me from this illness.”

He outlined that there is still prejudice that he doesn’t expect to be completely stamped out in his lifetime, however, he notes he “can still be a drop in the ocean of change.” 

In May, Jake Daniels became the first active male pro footballer to come out as gay since Justin Fashanu in 1990 – to compare, look adjacent to England’s Women’s Football team, for example, and there are a number of out and proud LGBTQ+ players in the current squad who brought football home with the Euros 2022 victory earlier this year.  

Daniels, Blackpool FC’s striker, said he recieved “amazing support” from his teammates after telling them about his sexuality. 

Benevenuto had been on the list for a VAR role at the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar, but was not chosen.

Josh Cavallo, the Australian player who came out in 2021, has previously spoken out about the choice of Qatar as a location for the soon-approaching World Cup.

Cavallo has said he would be “scared” to play in Qatar given the country’s treatment of LGBTQ people; homosexuality is illegal and punishable with up to three years in prison, or death under Sharia law.

In June, he further explained his position: “If I represent Australia at the World Cup – and I’m pushing for that – it would be an honour but at the same time, the laws clash,” he says. 

Cavallo continued, “I want to do something really good in my career – I’ve always dreamed of playing for my country at the World Cup – but do I want my life to be in danger?”

The Attitude September/October issue is out now.