UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay

Gay football players at the Brazil World Cup have been urged to come out the closet by the UN’s human rights chief.

“I encourage players, sports people to declare their sexual orientation without fear,” UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay told reporters at a meeting on equality in sports in Geneva on Monday.

She explained that this is “the only way they will find the right to sexual orientation accepted. They are role models, it’s important to send this message to their fans as well.”

Reuters reports that the South African-born Pillay added that it is “a shame, in this day and age”, that people “had to hide who they really are.”

She further said that governments who bid for major international sports events must consider the issue of human rights in their plans.

FIFA, the world football federation, has come under fire for selecting Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal, to host the 2022 World Cup. Responding to these concerns, Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, said in 2010 that gay fans who hoped to attend the World Cup “should refrain from any sexual activities”. He later apologised for the comment.

Of the more than 700 footballers taking part in the World Cup, none are openly gay.

In March, Swedish football player Anton Hysén, who came out as gay in 2011, was signed to play for the American football team, Myrtle Beach Mutiny. Hysén joined Robbie Rogers, who plays for Los Angeles Galaxy, as one of only two openly gay professional footballers in the sport.

The first ever professional footballer to come out as gay was the UK’s Justin Fashanu in 1990. He later committed suicide.

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