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UN commissioner calls on gay World Cup players to come out

Navi Pillay says it’s ‘a shame in this day and age’ that people have to hide

Outgoing United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay is calling on gay World Cup players to come out “without fear” to help gays and lesbians become more accepted around the world, Reuters reports.

Declaring their sexuality is the only way athletes will gain acceptance, Pillay says, adding that it’s important that their fans get that message as well.

Pillay, who steps down from the post Sept 1, called it “a shame in this day and age” that people still have to hide who they are. “There’s an increasing realisation that combatting discrimination requires more than superficial measures that do not change attitudes or address the root causes of inequality,” she told media in Geneva.

After coming out and initially retiring from soccer in February 2013, Robbie Rogers signed with the LA Galaxy three months later and got a warm reception from fans as he ran onto the field May 26. 

Still, there are those who are wary about coming out, citing slurs heard on the field and from the stands.

A young German footballer, who requested anonymity, recently told Deutsche Welle (DW) that after his teammates found out he is gay, they wore underwear while showering.

He says neither his friends on the team nor his coach stepped up to support him. “In hindsight, my coach didn’t react correctly. Maybe he was just unable to cope with the situation. I don’t want to point any fingers. But I do think he should have supported me and not just done nothing.”

He says that when former international player Thomas Hitzlsperger came out in January he hoped that the level of acceptance would increase but says he feels that homophobia in the stands got worse.

Last year, Oliver Kahn, former goalkeeper for the German national team, advised gay players to stay in the closet, even as he concluded that homosexuality is not a “big deal” in society anymore.

Kahn’s opinion dovetails with that of Philipp Lahm, current captain of the German team, who said in 2012 that the football stadium is not a “politically correct” environment and that society is not ready to accept gay footballers.

In the same year, Theo Zwanziger, former head of the German Football Association, called on gay players to come out of the closet