Jakub Jankto, a 27-year-old Czech footballer, has become the first current international in men’s football to come out publicly as gay.
In a short video posted on Twitter on Monday, the Sparta Prague midfielder said: “Hi, I’m Jakub Jankto. Like everybody else, I have my strengths. I have my weaknesses. I have a family. I have my friends. I have a job which I have been doing as best as I can for years, with seriousness, professionalism and passion.
“Like everybody else, I also want to live my life in freedom. Without fears. Without prejudice. Without violence. But with love.
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"I am homosexual and I no longer want to hide myself.”
Who is Jakub Jankto?
Jankto was born in Prague, and has a three-year-old son from a previous relationship. He is currently on loan to Sparta Prague from the Spanish side Getafe. Since joining Sparta Prague in August, he has made 10 league appearances, said the BBC. He has scored once and provided one assist.
Jankto has so far spent most of his club career in Italy with Udinese, Ascoli and Sampdoria. He then signed for Getafe in 2021. He has also made 45 appearance for the Czech Republic, scoring four goals since making his debut in 2017. He started for his country in the Euro 2020 group match against England at Wembley in June 2021.
“Jankto is the most prominent active men’s player to come out, by some distance,” said Paul MacInnes in The Guardian. And, he added, Jankto’s “age and personal history” could be “significant in helping change perceptions… within the game”.
The response so far
Jankto’s video had been watched a million times on Twitter within four hours of being uploaded, said The Guardian. It received 100,000 likes in the same period on Instagram.
Sparta Prague released a statement in support of the player, which read: “Jakub Jankto spoke openly about his sexual orientation with the club’s management, coach and teammates some time ago.
“No further comments. No more questions. You have our support. Live your life, Jakub. Nothing else matters.”
Jankto’s Spanish team Getafe likewise said: “Our maximum respect and unconditional support for our footballer, Jakub Jankto.”
Organising bodies such as Fifa and the Premier League, along with many clubs worldwide, also issued statements of solidarity. Uefa, European football’s governing body, wrote: “Well done, Jakub. You’re a true inspiration, and European football is with you!”
Jankto’s statement is “quite significant in the fact he’s 27 years old, he’s already built an image of himself in the mind of the public, in the mind of fans,” Jon Holmes, the founder of the advocacy group Sports Media LGBT+, told The Guardian. “To then break that mould and go against the image that had been created around him is a really significant thing to do.”
The final lines of Jankto’s message – “This is not an entertainment, the purpose of this video is to encourage others” – have been interpreted as a reference to former Spanish internationals Iker Casillas and Carles Puyol making a joke about coming out last year.
“In this space of LGBT representation in sports there are still quite a lot of firsts to be broken and he’s the guy who’s stepped forward to do that today,” Holmes said.
A long way to go for football
Jankto is not the first footballer to publicly come out. He “joins Australian player Josh Cavallo as the only openly gay top-flight male footballers in the world”, said CNN.
Jake Daniels, an 18-year-old striker for Blackpool in England’s second tier, also came out in May 2022. The German midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, who played for Aston Villa, came out in January 2014 a few months after retiring.
However, there are currently no active players in the Premier League who have come out publicly.
“Former footballer Clarke Carlisle, a prominent spokesman for player welfare, said eight Premier League players had told him they were gay,” reports The Daily Telegraph. So why have none felt able to come out yet?
While governing bodies have made statements of support many times, some felt they lost some credibility on the matter last year when they asked players to withdraw their promise to wear rainbow armbands in support of LGBT+ rights while playing in Qatar.
Many also remember Justin Fashanu, who came out as the first openly gay professional footballer 32 years ago. Fashanu took his own life in 1998, aged 37, “following years of homophobic abuse”, said the Telegraph. “From primary school onwards, the sport has long been associated with stereotypical, red-blooded male heterosexuality.”
San Diego Loyal midfielder Collin Martin, who came out as gay in 2018, told the Daily Express there are countless reasons why a player will not be open about their sexual orientation. He said it takes time “to work up the courage to come out in an environment where so few have done so before”.
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