It’s been a tough journey for South Africa’s first openly gay soccer star Phuti Lekoloane, who says the football industry is still not ready to embrace the gay community.
The 28-year-old goalkeeper for Makapanstad Romans FC, in the ABC Motsepe, came out in 2015.
However, he says the challenges that he is faced with today are still the same ones he’s had to endure since speaking publicly about his sexuality.
“I came out five years ago, however, I still face the same rejection I faced back then. I’ve only played in one league in my professional soccer career and a lot of my teammates knew about my sexuality before I even came out. However, others were accepting and yet others weren’t as accepting when I officially
came out,” he told publication DRUM.
Based on his own experiences of rejection, Phuti believes the South African sports industry is not ready to accept the gay community because of the stereotypes that are still perpetuated within the sport.
“I think me coming out wasn’t even about being brave, it was about me wanting to live my full authentic life. I was not brave, I just wanted to live my life”.
Speaking to TimesLive, Lekoloane says that he’s wanted to play in the national first division, but the teams in the league are homophobic and discriminate against him, despite him knowing that there are many who are in the closet and playing in the league.
“If you come out, you have a lot to lose. I have lost everything that I have dreamed of”.
“You can’t go there if teams still don’t understand homosexuality, so that is how I got rejected. If I was in the closet, I think I would have made it,” Lekoloane says.
“We do have bisexual team managers and coaches who are in the closet,” he adds, “so it’s always like that. I am the sacrificial lamb”.
Lekoloane has started a foundation that aims to disrupt homophobia and the stereotypes of the LGBTQ+ community and to champion equality in all sports, “I started the foundation because of the lack of support throughout my career. I had no support from the gay community at all. I’m the first one to have
a structured LGBTQ organisation that will cater for all people in the sport industry”.