Eudy Simelane’s partially clothed body was found dumped in a creek outside Johannesburg in 2008. She had been gang-raped, beaten, and stabbed 25 times, from her face to the soles of her feet. She was a former midfielder for South Africa’s national women’s football team, and a lesbian.
South Africa was the first country in the world to grant equal rights to LGBT people, but homophobic attacks like “corrective rape” are increasing and discrimination prevents out athletes from playing in the national football league. In 2004, a group of lesbians formed the Chosen FEW. Ten years later, it remains the only openly queer football team in the country, with no dedicated training field. “We don’t have a place to play,” says striker and occasional goalkeeper Bathwanda Mosho. “Why not? Because people are homophobic; they don’t want lesbians to play.”
“In football, ‘gay’ is still a swear word,” retired German midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger told magazine Die Zeit when he came out in January 2014. No active Premier League footballer has ever come out, and although Italian national team manager Cesare Prandelli invited his gay footballers to do so in April 2012, all seem to have declined. For international players, leaving the closet could mean leaving the pitch; queer foreigners risk deportation from Russia, FIFA’s chosen host for the 2018 World Cup, and Qatar, 2022 host, reportedly plans to start screening visitors for homosexuality as they arrive.