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First top-flight male soccer star to publicly identify as gay proposes to partner on home pitch

By Chris Lau, CNN

(CNN) — Josh Cavallo, the first top-flight male professional soccer star to publicly identify as gay, has blazed a new trail by proposing to his partner on the pitch of his club.

The Australian player made history in 2021 when he posted an emotional online video to talk about his sexuality and vowing to change the sport’s culture “to show that everyone is welcome in the game of football.”

His announcement was hailed as a watershed moment in a sport with a long and troubled history of entrenched homophobia, particularly in the men’s game.

Since then, Cavallo, 24, has become one of the most recognizable faces in the sport and an outspoken advocate for greater equality for the LGBTQ community.

On Thursday, he announced that he had proposed to his fiancée at Coopers Stadium, home pitch of his Australian A-League team Adelaide United.

Alongside a picture of him down on one knee, holding out a ring, Cavallo declared in a post on X: “Starting this year with my fiancée.”

Other photos showed the player beaming while his partner covered his eyes and a close-up of the two holding hands.

Cavallo thanked his team “for helping set up this surprise.”

“You have provided a safe space in football, one that I never in my dreams thought could ever be possible,” he wrote on X, adding that he wanted to “share this special moment on the pitch, where it all started.”

Subsequently Cavallo has played in A-League Pride matches with the name and number on his jersey printed in rainbow colors to raise awareness, and has constantly posted encouraging messages on social media.

He was named “Man of the Year” in 2022 at an awards ceremony hosted by Attitude Magazine, Europe’s largest LGBTQ magazine publication.

Cavallo spoke out against FIFA’s decision two years ago to ban players from wearing “OneLove” armbands at the World Cup held in Qatar during an interview with CNN, saying that move made him feel “excluded.”

He didn’t make the Socceroo’s final squad, but at the time said he wished to see the Australian captain wear the armband in solidarity with the LGBTQ community.

“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 in 2022.

“And it’s exactly the reason why I’ve come out and to be the person I am today,” he added.

Professional soccer has made strong gains in tackling homophobia and racism in recent years and launched multiple campaigns but prejudice remains entrenched among some fans, clubs and players.

According to a report of the 2022-23 season released by Kick It Out, the English football anti-discrimination group said it received 1,007 reports of discriminatory behaviour, a 65.1% rise on the previous season.

While racism was the most prevalent form of discrimination, Kick It Out said research undertaken by Signify, which investigates online threat and disinformation, had identified “peaks of homophobic and misogynistic abuse targeting several high-profile WSL [Women’s Super League] players,” even as the game’s authorities continue to promote a number of campaigns tackling homophobia and promoting LGBTQ+ inclusion.

To this day there are still very few professional male footballers who have publicly identified as gay.

Earlier this week Austria’s national squad announced it had not selected three Rapid Vienna soccer players for duty after video emerged of the players taking part in post-match celebrations shouting homophobic chants with a selection of the crowd.

However there have been high profile comments and interventions by prominent footballers calling for more tolerance and diversity.

Last year Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale said that he could no longer remain silent over homophobic abuse in football out of love and respect for his brother, who is gay.

“I want my brother… – or anyone of any sexuality, race or religion – to come to games without having to fear abuse.”

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