In the scene it was no longer a secret. Now Igor Benevenuto dares to go public with a courageous step. In a podcast on the Brazilian sports portal Globoesporte, the Fifa referee openly acknowledged his homosexuality. He is the first referee at the highest level to come out.
“Football was a ‘men’s game’ and I knew from an early age that I was gay. There wasn’t a more perfect place to hide my sexuality,” says Benevenuto. However, because playing was not a permanent option, he decided to go into refereeing. The 41-year-old has been the keeper of the rules for 23 years.
“Being a referee put me in a position of power that I needed. Did I choose it to hide my sexuality? Yes,” repeats Benevenuto, referring to the reasons for becoming a referee. The Brazilian talks about a difficult childhood. Especially with the macho culture and the prejudices in football, he couldn’t do anything early on.
He grew up with a “deep hatred” of the sport. Football is “one of the most hostile environments for a homosexual”. In order to still belong, he sacrificed his “true self to protect myself from the physical and emotional violence of homophobia”. This is not an isolated case, reports Benevenuto. “Gays are used to not being themselves. We limit our behavior so as not to disappoint the expectations of the straight world.”
The negative experiences related to his sexuality did not end with the decision to become a referee alone. Benevenuto reports on the final of an LGBT competition that he should have whistle. “They convinced me not to do it because it wasn’t a good idea,” he says. He was always advised not to be “associated with the gay image”. He was insulted several times by fans and those responsible. Players and coaches, on the other hand, have always treated Benevenuto, who has been on the Fifa list since 2021, with respect.
From his outing, the referee hopes more normality for homosexuals in football. “We exist and deserve the right to talk about it and live normally,” Benevenuto explained. 99.99 percent of homosexuals in the football world would still “live in secret”.