It’s been almost a year since then Josh Cavallo declared himself gay, But so far he is still struggling to understand the far-reaching impact his announcement has had – especially as he has begun to speak out on key issues, in particular the World Cup in Qatar.
Since making this life-changing decision in October 2021, Cavallo has become one of the most recognizable names and faces in world football, as well as an icon.
The Adelaide United star was recently named ‘Man of the Year’ at the Awards Gala hosted by Attitude Magazine Europe’s largest LGBTQ magazine publication. It was the culmination of a turbulent year that began with what he describes as the beginning of a new chapter in his life.
“It was huge for me,” Cavallo told CNN Sport. “For me, it was a lot for my family and friends and it was a huge step forward.
“I didn’t know what to expect…and I handled it as best I could and ran with it, which is where I am now.
“I didn’t want to hide anymore and I wanted to show everyone who Josh Cavallo is. To see that I influence people and help them in their daily lives.
“I walk the streets of London and stop. I’ve only been to London twice now and say, ‘Wow, I’m all the way from Australia and what I’ve done has been on social media,’ and I see the impact I’ve had from people on the other side of the world is absolutely phenomenal.”
A year later, Cavallo is still the world’s only gay footballer – playing for A-League A-League club Adelaide United – but his decision inspired him. Jake DanielsThe striker for English second-tier club Blackpool, to be out in May this year.
Cavallo admits he doesn’t know the reaction to his ad, and although there are negative comments, for every hate message he says he receives, there are 100 supportive messages.
Although he was feeling anxious before he came out in public, he says the prevailing feeling was the “emotional happiness” that he was no longer “hiding and living in this fear.”
“It was just an uncertainty, as there was no active gay footballer who had appeared before and there was no plan for that,” he recalls.
“I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know how people would react, there was a lot of uncertainty and that’s something I struggled with growing up and why it took me so long to become the person that I am.
“I wanted to be that person who, you know, people are looking at right now and saying, ‘Oh my God, this is so cool. I want to do this. I want to do what Josh does,'” and I want it to be very comprehensive and impactful.
“It’s great to see people now in the football industry, referees, and people in the sport coming out and pointing to my story and saying I’ve had an impact on them. It’s absolutely extraordinary that she’s having such an impact.”
Cavallo names Lionel Messi as one of his inspirations on the field growing up, but says he looked to Justin Fashano for inspiration in his personal life.
Fasano became the first openly gay professional footballer after being knocked out in 1990 while playing in the Premier League, but the backlash he suffered eventually led to him committing suicide eight years later.
“To see this story end in such a sad way, it hurt me and it looked like I didn’t want people to understand that perspective,” Cavallo says.
“It’s great to be gay. It’s great to be a footballer and be comfortable with yourself. Why don’t we embrace that? And I knew I had the opportunity to change that.”
Earlier this month, former Spain national team players Iker Casillas and Carles Puyol It was widely criticized after The previous post posted a tweet claiming to be gay.
In a now-deleted post on his official Twitter account, Casillas wrote: “I wish I could be respected: I’m gay.” In response, former Barcelona captain Carles Puyol wrote: “It’s time to tell our story, Iker.”
Casillas, who has two children with his ex-wife, deleted the post shortly after sending it and later apologized, as did Puyol. The original tweet came amid rumors in the Spanish media that Casillas has linked up with multiple women since his divorce.
Underestimating such an important topic is detrimental to those facing persecution around the world for their sexuality, says Cavallo, who tweeted criticism of the couple at the time.
“It’s hard for people to understand when they haven’t tried it,” he says.
You get a lot of messages on social media for people in countries like Qatar and they say: Josh, please help me. I want to go out, I want to be myself but they will incriminate me. I will get the death penalty.
“When you hear things like that, it breaks your heart because it’s the things that people go through every day in these countries.
“There are 69 countries in the world that still criminalize this, so it’s a huge and important topic, and seeing game icons mock that and make fun of my tribe, it hurts and insults me because there are so many people who are fighting for their lives just to feel comfortable with who they are in their own skin.”
Cavallo says the exchange between Casillas and Puyol proves that football “still has a long way to go” to eradicate homophobia, even if the sport has recently taken strides in the right direction.
“Something that could be exchanging a joke or mocking is very painful for people like us because we go through our lives with strength, find our identity for who we are, and ultimately build the courage to be who we are and be comfortable in our own skin,” he says.
“Then you see people and legends of the game doing that which is very painful because we are looking at these people. These are the people we dream of playing against or playing alongside.
“So to see people like that do things like that and [make] Silly jokes like this are very hurtful to myself in particular and to my community.”
After publicizing his sexual orientation last year, Cavallo said he would be “afraid” to play in Qatar, where same-sex activity is prohibited.
In response to Cavallo’s concerns at the time, Nasser Al-Khater The CEO of the Organizing Committee for the Championship told CNN: “On the contrary, we welcome him here in Qatar, and we welcome him to come and see even before the World Cup… Nobody feels threatened here, nobody feels unsafe.”
“I know personally, if I went there, I’d be protected because I’m in the public eye,” Cavallo told CNN anchor Amanda Davis.
“But I am not worried about it. These are the ones who text me. Those people who are not in the public eye are the ones who are afraid to be themselves and walk the streets.”
“To see that we’re heading into a country that criminalizes people like me… It’s very worrying,” Cavallo added.
CNN reached out to World Cup organizers in Qatar for comment on Cavallo’s comments, but did not receive a response.
Earlier this year, former England international David Beckham became one of the most famous ambassadors for the World Cup in Qatar.
Beckham has previously been widely criticized for accepting the role, and Cavallo says he would like to see Beckham use his platform to support the LGBTQ community instead.
“Look, I don’t know David personally, so I can’t comment on him and his actions,” Cavallo says. “But having allies in the game is really helpful and when I went out to my dressing room, my teammates and to see the reception – every single one of them is an ally of mine.
“It made me feel so proud on the inside and it makes you really emotional because it’s something I’ve struggled with for so long. So it has had a huge impact on myself and my community.”
“If someone like David Beckham has his platform around us and he becomes the ally we want him to be, that really helps.
“If he can take the next step and show what he means to the LGBTQ community, that would be great.”