SA’s 1st out footballer talks locker-room homophobia

Phuti Lekoloane. Picture: Supplied
After becoming the country’s first openly gay male soccer player in 2016, Phuti Lekoloane says that he is devastated after being rejected by his fellow teammates because of his sexuality.

On Tuesday August 13, Lekoloane who plays for the Tornado Football Club in the Eastern Cape took to social media where he expressed being faced once again with discrimination and bigotry behind the scenes.

The 27-year-old goalkeeper said that he took up an invitation to play with a team that he did not wish to name after he was struggling for weeks with a groin injury.

“So I arrive, greet everyone who was there waiting for the caretaker to open the change room…confidently I walk in and I hear a small group gossiping about me… Well I get that a lot [especially] on my first days… I don’t pay attention to it,” he wrote on Facebook.

Admitting that on arrival he was deeply grateful for the opportunity to get to play with the team, but a coach and two players discouraged this feeling after they asked him to use an empty changing room rather than the one shared by the other men. The reason? Because he is “different”.

“I have never felt so much pain. I felt numb… my mouth was dry…I felt dizzy as I walked out of that change room without saying anything to anyone… I took a taxi and I went straight home,” he said.

Lekoloane added that, “I refuse to be isolated or discriminated [against]”. 

When Lekoloane came out in 2016, he said that he often faced homophobia from opposing teams who attempt to get at him before the start of a match. However, he said that he uses those comments as “motivation to go out there and perform”.

Lekoloane’s experience is a reflection of the toxic masculinity and bigotry that still plagues a sport that loves to boast about its movement into inclusivity. In 2017, England’s Football Association (FA) chairman, Greg Clarke, said he’d met with 15 gay sportspeople, including footballers, about helping
them to feel comfortable to come out.

Lekoloane says he is trying to break stereotypes to pave the way for other gay players to come out. Still in keeping with the message to celebrate who they are.