There’s a reason they call soccer the beautiful game. The combination of grace and stamina displayed by top players is unparalleled in any other team sport. The relatively minimalist uniforms don’t hurt either.
With the possible exception of rugby (thanks to the French national team, which each year since 1999 has produced a calendar of players in the nude that’s oh so popular with North American fags), soccer may also be the gayest team sport going. It’s not just the way players jump all over each other whenever their team scores a goal, nor is it the aforementioned uniforms, though both certainly add to the sport’s homo appeal. It’s that (as Madonna might say to Maradona) soccer makes the people come together, gay and straight.
That isn’t to say that soccer — football to the rest of the world — is more welcoming of queer players than other professional sports. It isn’t. Of the 32 teams that will play in the upcoming World Cup tournament (which begins Fri, Jun 9 with the opening match between Germany and Costa Rica), not a single one boasts an out player.
To date there’s only been one openly gay professional soccer player, Justin Fashanu. Rated one of Britain’s most promising players in the early 1980s, Fashanu came out in 1990 and was subject to homophobic abuse by opponents and teammates alike for the rest of his career.
“People need to know the truth,” Fashanu told media in 1992. “It’s okay to allow yourself to express your sexuality.”
Fashanu killed himself in 1998 after having sexual assault charges levelled against him by a 17-year-old in the US. His suicide note denied the charges and referred to an attempt by the youth to blackmail him. His example isn’t exactly the sort of thing to encourage up-and-coming footballers to follow in his footsteps.
Other players have admitted to curbing their exuberant affection for fear of being labelled queer. Last year Liverpool striker Djibril Cisse told reporters he wouldn’t be kissing any of his teammates again after a peck on the cheek during a match apparently drew negative attention in the locker room.
(The beautiful game didn’t used to be so uptight. In 1975 Alan Birchenall, arguably the David Beckham of his day, shocked spectators when he kissed the opposing team’s Tony Currie on the lips after a collision on the field. Holy instant gay icons, Batman!)
But for all this, soccer is doing more for queers by sparking conversations between homophobic and gay-friendly fans in disparate parts of the world than any other competitive sport. From arguments between Commonwealth fans over the British Football Association’s recent ban of homophobic taunts (should it really be worth a red card?) to transcontinental debates about same-sex marriage, on-line soccer forums get people talking — people with widely divergent views on homosexuality who would have no other reason to communicate.
Moreover, soccer is gay by association. Brazil, the South American country synonymous with carefree sexuality, rules the game; the Brazilian team took the last tournament in 2002 and leads overall with five World Cup championships. The team is also the early favourite to take the 2006 tournament, with betting odds currently listed at three to one.
The influence of soccer and soccer players over youngsters has also got some homophobes wary, and that can only be a good thing. In 2004 Nigerian government officials warned that soccer culture was promoting homosexuality, particularly when it came to stars’ unorthodox hairstyles.
“Our youths are now taking after our great football stars…. Don’t forget that in the developing world that the braiding of hair and earrings have a sense of homosexuality,” one official told the BBC.
For all these reasons and more (I didn’t even get to Maradona’s makeout session with Colin Farrell) I’ll be forgoing various pre-Pride festivities in order to better devote myself to the World Cup coverage out of Germany this month.