Josh Cavallo, the only openly gay top-flight male soccer player in the sport, has told CNN that FIFA’s decision to ban players from wearing “OneLove” armbands at the Qatar 2022 has made him feel “excluded.”
The captains of several European teams decided not to wear “OneLove” armbands at the World Cup due to the danger of receiving yellow cards.
England, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Wales were set to participate in the “OneLove” campaign to promote inclusion and oppose discrimination.
But those countries’ associations said in a statement on Monday that the armband – which features a striped heart in different colors to represent all heritages, backgrounds, genders and sexual identities – would not be worn in Qatar.
“I’m disappointed in FIFA. They have made me feel excluded,” Cavallo told CNN’s Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.
“You know, representation is so important and there’s so many people watching these games, you know, that it just shows that FIFA’s intentions are not to make … football a place for everyone, you know.
“We have families watching, we have the next generation watching. FIFA needs to do better. It’s the world game.”
In an earlier social media post Tuesday, Cavallo called the measure “draconian.”
The Adelaide United midfielder and former Australian youth international made headlines last year when he came out as gay.
Cavallo has subsequently become one of the most recognizable faces in the sport and was recently named “Man of the Year” at an awards ceremony hosted by Attitude Magazine, Europe’s largest LGBTQ magazine publication.
Cavallo was speaking to Amanpour ahead of Australia’s 4-1 Group D defeat by France in their opening World Cup game.
Earlier this year, Cavallo spoke of his hopes of playing for Australia at the World Cup, but he didn’t make the Socceroos’ final squad for Qatar 2022.
However, the 23-year-old said that he had expected the Australian captain to wear the “OneLove” armband in solidarity with the LGBTQ community despite the risk of sanctions for any player who wore the armband.
“If I had been there and I had been the captain, yes, I would have worn the armband. I’m not ashamed to be who I am,” Cavallo told CNN.
“And it’s exactly the reason why I’ve come out and to be the person I am today,” added Cavallo. “I do expect my captain to wear it.”
The Australian team, including captain Matthew Ryan, who appeared in a video with his Socceroo teammates before the tournament to raise human rights issues including the treatment of LGBTQ+ people in Qatar, did not wear a rainbow armband in the game against France.
While Cavallo said that he had expectations that the national team would wear the armband, he understood the invidious decision they had faced.
“It’s definitely concerning because it’s FIFA putting them in this position where it’s like they are going to be risking a World Cup, something that we trained for as professional athletes and dreamed to represent our country at the world stage,” said Cavallo.
“I commend the seven nations [who originally intended to wear the armband at the tournament] for wanting to embrace inclusivity in the World Cup campaign.”
Reflecting on the ramifications that he has faced in football since he came out in October 2021, Cavallo said that he did face a “backlash” but that the positive impact he has had as an LGBTQ ambassador in the game has been worthwhile.
“What got me through are the messages I get every day on a daily basis, whether it’s from moms, from children, from grandparents, and to see that my story helped influence them and change their life for the better, and helped save their lives.
“You can bring all the hate you want, as long as I’m saving lives, I will continue doing what I’m doing,” he added.
The German national team put their hands over their mouths during the pre-game photo ahead of their match against Japan in the World Cup Wednesday, in what appeared to be a protest against freedom of speech in the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.
CNN reached out to FIFA offering the organization a right of reply to Cavallo’s comments.
FIFA said the that prior to countries announcing their captains would not wear the armband in Qatar, world soccer’s governing body had brought forward its own “No Discrimination” campaign and said all 32 captains would have the opportunity to wear an armband linked to the campaign.