Igor Benevenuto, a 41-year-old Brazilian, has become the first FIFA-ranked referee to come out as gay after he admitted the same in a podcast on Friday. Benevenuto had entered the FIFA list of international referees in 2021.
Igor, who is considered among the top officials in Brazil, has admitted that he is gay and expressed the joy of finally being himself. The referee has talked about his hatred towards football while growing up and how he used to live in disguise to hide his sexuality.
"Football is a sport which I grew up hating deeply. I couldn't stand the atmosphere, the macho culture and the prejudice disguised as horseplay. To survive among the circle of kids who always used to play I put together a character, a masked version of myself," said Igor Benevenuto.
Speaking to GloboEsporte, the Brazilian has revealed the reason for becoming a referee instead of a player. He said: "Football was a man's game, and from an early age I knew I was gay. There couldn't have been a better place to hide my sexuality. But playing wasn't a feasible long-term option, so I went for the only road open: I became a referee. I am 41, and 23 of those years have been dedicated to the whistle. Until today I've never been the real me. Gays are used to not being themselves."
"We tone down our attitudes to not disappoint the hetero world's expectations. I spent my entire life sacrificing who I am to protect myself from the physical and emotional violence of homophobia. And I entered one of the most hostile environments for a homosexual. That's why I say that I hated football," he added.
Further, Benevenuto has shown his relief that he will no longer have to hide his true self by saying, "From this day onward I will never again be one of the other versions of Igor that I created. I will not be the referee Igor character, the character I was for friends, for family, the neighbours, for the straight society. I will just be Igor, a gay man, who respects people and their choices. No masks. Just Igor. Without a filter and finally myself."
FIFA has expressed its support for the referee's decision to reveal his sexuality. In a statement to GloboEsporte, FIFA said, "FIFA welcomes and supports referee Igor Benevenuto and his decision to come out. As highlighted at other times, FIFA strongly believes that football is for everyone. And Igor striving to be true to himself is an important moment for football in Brazil and in other countries around the world."
"We hope this decision will encourage others and inspire greater diversity and inclusion in the 'beautiful game.'"