Phuti Lekoloane, SA’s 1st gay footballer, faces locker-room homophobia

South Africa’s first openly gay male soccer player, Phuti Lekoloane, is devastated after being rejected by fellow footballers because of his sexuality.

In 2016, Lekoloane became the first professional male soccer player in South Africa to come out of the closet to the public. He now plays for the Tornado Football Club in the Eastern Cape.

On Monday, the 27-year-old goalkeeper revealed on social media that he’d been faced yet again with the stark reality of bigotry and discrimination in the sport. Lekoloane said that after struggling with a groin injury for weeks he took up an invitation to play with a team that he did not wish to name.

Grateful for the opportunity, he arrived for his first training session. “So I arrive, greet everyone who was there waiting for the caretaker to open the change room…confidently I walk in and I hear a small group gossiping about me… Well I get that a lot [especially] on my first days… I don’t pay attention to it,” he wrote on Facebook.

Then, two of the players and the coach approached him and asked him to use an empty changing room rather than the one shared by the other men – because he is “different.”

“I have never felt so much pain. I felt numb.. my mouth was dry…I felt dizzy as I walked out of that change room without saying anything to anyone… I took a taxi and I went straight home,” he said.

Lekoloane added that, “I refuse to be isolated or discriminated [against].”

MambaOnline reached out to Lekoloane for more details about the incident but he chose not to elaborate further on what happened. He did, however, agree to this article being published.

In July, the footballer told us that he did not regret coming out but had experienced homophobia as a result, especially from opponents who “try to put me down before a match.” He said, however, that he uses those comments as “motivation to go out there and perform.”

The local and international sports world remains overwhelmingly closeted, with few, especially male, players or athletes being open about their sexuality. In football, homophobic chants continue to be used by fans in several countries, despite the imposition of fines.

In 2017, England’s Football Association (FA) chairman, Greg Clarke, said he’d met with 15 gay sportspeople, including footballers, about helping them to feel comfortable to come out. There are still currently no openly gay male professional football players in England.

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