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Football for Everyone: Austrian FA initiative takes heart from football's response to Joshua Cavallo's courage

Pioneers in tackling homophobia in the game, the ÖFB is well-placed to assess the long-term impact of Australian player Joshua Cavallo’s decision to come out as gay.

Adelaide United's Josh Cavallo has been called an inspiration by the Austrian FA
Adelaide United's Josh Cavallo has been called an inspiration by the Austrian FA Getty Images

European football’s first-ever ombudsman responsible for addressing player reports of sexual discrimination believes the positive response to A-League player, Joshua Cavallo’s recent decision to come out will encourage others to follow in his footsteps.

"We hope that Joshua's courageous decision will inspire others to feel more confident and safer about coming out," said Oliver Egger, ombudsman for Fussball für Alle (Football for Everybody) – a pioneering Austrian Football Association (ÖFB) programme tackling homophobia in football.

Last month, Adelaide United full-back Cavallo joined the small group of male professionals who have publicly declared their homosexuality while still actively playing the game. Prominent players, pundits and fans, as well as a considerable number of top clubs, all praised the Australian for taking this step.

"I'm very proud of Joshua. I know what it means to be gay and a footballer at the same time. I can only show him respect," Egger reflected. "Such stories are so important for young people because they look for role models. He's one of those guys that a lot of youngsters look up to."

Michele Uva, director of UEFA's football and social responsibility programme

"UEFA has always strongly believed that football should be a place where everyone can be their true self. Joshua's announcement represents an important sign of progress towards achieving this goal."

Breaking new ground

Backed by UEFA's football social responsibility programme and Austria's Bundesliga, Football for Everybody broke new ground two years ago by inviting Mr Egger – the first Austrian footballer to openly announce his homosexuality – to serve as its ombudsman.

Any Austrian footballers who do not feel comfortable about coming out, or who have suffered discrimination because of their sexual orientation, can get in touch with Mr Egger through a confidential hotline.

How football is tackling discrimination in Austria
How football is tackling discrimination in Austria

"With its pioneering efforts to rid the game of homophobia, the Austrian FA is also making a vital contribution to our vision of a sport where such announcements will one day become the norm," commented Mr Uva. "The Football for Everyone programme provides a template that I strongly encourage all our national associations to adopt."

"The ÖFB stands for respect, diversity, tolerance and integration in all areas of society. We seek to create a culture where all people and communities are equally treated with respect," says ÖFB president Gerhard Milletich. "Football has a strong integrative power that we use to stand up for our values and to take a resolute stand against intolerance in any form."

'Brave but necessary'

Ingo Mach, the ÖFB's football social responsibility manager who helped set up Football for Everybody, described Joshua's decision as "brave but necessary".

"Hopefully, the international response, especially from fans, shows there should be fewer and fewer concerns about coming out as a football player," said Mach.

The programme also runs workshops to raise awareness across the wider football family, from schoolchildren and grassroots clubs to professional players and national associations beyond Austria. Mr. Mach believes that if there are fewer incidents of homophobia in Austrian football today, it is due in part to the programme's success in raising public awareness.

Related link: Football's power to unite: breaking barriers, building communities