Iker Casillas and homophobia in football

Spanish player has been accused of ‘flippancy’ after joking about being gay

Iker Casillas
The goalkeeper tweeted in Spanish: ‘I hope you respect me: I’m gay’
(Image credit: 2013 AFP)

Anti-gay prejudice in football is back in the spotlight after former Real Madrid and Spain player Iker Casillas said he had been hacked after tweeting that he was gay.

The episode began when the goalkeeper tweeted in Spanish: “I hope you respect me: I’m gay,” and his former Spain team-mate Carles Puyol replied: “It’s time to tell our story.”

Two hours later, Casillas deleted the tweet – and replaced it with a new message, claiming he’d been hacked but that everything was now “in order”. Puyol said he had made a “mistake” and apologised “for a clumsy joke with no bad intentions”.

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The initial exchange “led to thousands of replies – most of which were of a homophobic nature”, said The Mirror. Many have accused the pair of making light of the struggles that genuinely gay sportspeople face.

A ‘kick in the teeth’

In its own message on Twitter, the networking group Sports Media LGBT+ criticised both the “flippancy of the tweets” and the “weak backtrack”.

“Put simply”, wrote Jack Murley, the presenter of the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast, “neither man seemed to ‘get’ what it’s like to be gay in the beautiful game”.

He added that the episode “gives ammunition to those who, with half an eye on the upcoming World Cup in Qatar, feel football isn’t serious about making the LGBTQ+ community feel welcome”.

Writing for Metro, Craig Bratt, the media officer for Exeter City, also linked the episode with the upcoming tournament. He said that “in a year in which a World Cup is being held in a country where I am illegal,” the episode “felt like a kick in the teeth”.

“For the most part, the reactionaries of men’s football no longer throw around slurs”, wrote The Guardian’s Jonathan Liew. “Instead, prejudice can arrive in different forms: wrapped in irony or jest, self-aware or self-deprecating, trying to convince you it’s actually the butt of its own joke.”

‘Hugely disappointed’

Amal Fashanu, who campaigns against discrimination in football, called on Casillas to “show evidence of the hack”. The niece of late football star Justin Fashanu, who was the first professional footballer to be openly gay, told The Sun she was “hugely disappointed” by the actions of the two players, adding that “we still see a lot of homophobic abuse online and it has to end”.

“If any good can come out of this saga”, said Amal, “it will be that the authorities, especially the FA and the Premier League, will be reminded how much more still needs to be done to support players who are brave enough to make that step and talk about their sexuality publicly”.

Indeed, noted Murley, the game is changing, with “LGBTQ+ leagues marking landmark anniversaries” and “LGBTQ+ fans attending games as their inclusive selves, the sport is more inclusive than it’s ever been”.

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