I’m a gay soccer player and would definitely play for USMNT at World Cup despite homosexuality being illegal in Qatar
WHEN US soccer star Collin Martin came out as gay in 2018, he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from fans and teammates.
The San Diego Loyal star, 27, now plies his trade in the USL Championship after MLS stints at Minnesota and DC United.
When he made the brave decision to come out of the closet, Martin was the only openly gay male athlete in high-level US sport.
He told the US Sun: “I didn’t know quite how big of a deal it was going to be coming out.
“There was a lot of anxiety and honestly, I was scared to see how a lot of fans and the reaction would be of other players on other teams.
“To open it up to the broader sport, it was a lot for me.
“I wasn’t quite sure what the reaction would be, but I knew deep down, on a personal level, I was ready to share the news.”
Martin, a tough-tackling midfielder who grew up in Chevy Chase, ML, is a former USMNT under-20 international.
And he was as delighted as any US soccer fan to see Gregg Berhalter’s Stars & Stripes reach this November’s finals in Qatar.
But male homosexuality remains a crime in the country, with jail sentences for same-sex relationships as high as SEVEN years.
FIFA top boss Giani Infantino has insisted “all are welcome in Qatar”, but critics have slammed the country’s human rights record and lack of access to free speech.
‘WOULD I BE ALLOWED TO PLAY?’
Now 27, Martin has yet to gain a full USMNT cap but says he would “definitely” go to the World Cup if called up – not only to unify, but to show he is proud of who he is.
Martin continued: “I would definitely go to the World Cup if I was called up. Obviously, that’s an extreme hypothetical, but it would be an honor.
“I think that I would try to honor the community in a certain way – the gay community – and I would do it respectfully.
“I would make sure that it is known that a gay player is participating at the World Cup, and that there’s no issue with it and that I need to be respected.”
In 2020, Qatar assured visitors the kingdom would welcome LGBTQIA+ fans and they will be free to fly the rainbow flag at matches.
But Martin is keen to stress that human rights issues on “multiple levels” for citizens of the country need to be addressed.
He continued: “I think it’s not just the gay community that is concerned with the host country being accepting and I think there’s been a tonne of different issues that have arose from holding the World Cup in Qatar.
“There are human rights questions on multiple levels and women’s rights and how the country views and accepts women.
“Obviously, in my case, there is some concern and just
genuine safety concerns like ‘am I going to be allowed to play in this country if I was in the World Cup?’
“‘Would I be accepted?’ ‘What kind of abuse would I get from fans in the stadiums?’
“I think there is definitely some work to be done and definitely there’s some concern there, but if people can’t go to the stadiums, and feeling like they can’t go with their significant others, that’s an issue.
“The focus should be on supporting their country, enjoying
themselves, having a good time and being allowed to enjoy the game of football.
“It’s a sport for everyone and it’s something that should be enjoyed by all.”
Since his announcement in 2018, few players have followed Martin’s lead in feeling comfortable enough to come out of the closet.
‘I COULDN’T FULLY ACCEPT MYSELF’
But the Maryland-native was delighted when 17-year-old Blackpool star Jake Daniels became the first British footballer to publically come out as gay since 1990.
He told talkSPORT: “Just to see a player in the UK come out at any level and at any age is incredible.
“But for Jake to be 17 years old and have the courage to share that with the world is really beyond belief.”
Progress then, but research from BonusFinder suggests there is still some way to go.
The study reveals more than 40 percent of fans believe soccer players should “hide their sexuality” because it’s not “relevant”.
Martin continued: “I would say that [fans] don’t realize how detrimental it is to be in the closet and not being free and accepting yourself, but also sharing that with the world.
“There’s a big positive impact that happens on a personal level when you share the news with people, and I feel like I couldn’t completely accept myself until I came out on a public level.
“So, I think what I would tell these fans is that a player when they’re liberated off the field, and when they accept themselves, is going to show a better product on the field.
“They’re going to enjoy themselves more, and hopefully reach a new potential with them not being in the closet.”
One in five Americans who responded to the survey indicated they would stop supporting their team if it included an out and proud LGBTQIA+ player.
But Martin – who now plays in the USL Championship – believes the MLS is on the right track by educating fans in grounds, with others encouraged to follow their lead.
He continued: “The governing bodies have a big responsibility to change attitudes, and also just to make environments safe.
“When I was in the MLS, one of the things I loved was that before every game, prominent players would get on the big screen, and they would say homophobia is not going to be accepted in the stadium and racism is not going to be accepted in the stadium.
“There were certain guidelines and certain things that just aren’t going to be tolerated, and to see the biggest players in our league step out and create a safe environment before every game, meant a lot to me.
“I think that’s an initiative that the MLS did and there’s different ways that governing bodies, or leagues, or teams themselves can do to make sure that the stadiums and places in sport are more welcoming and safe.”
The USMNT face England, Iran and Wales in their World Cup group this fall.
*Collin Martin has partnered with BonusFinder and LGBT HERO to understand representation and attitudes towards the LGBTQIA+ community in US professional team sport.
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