KRAKOW, Poland, June 13 – Italy striker Antonio Cassano was on Tuesday criticised by gay rights campaigners for using a derogatory word to describe homosexuals and saying he hopes there are no gay players in the national team.
During a press conference, the forward was asked a question about an Italian television personality’s claim there are two gay and two so-called “metrosexuals” in the national squad.
“What’s a metrosexual?” Cassano asked the questioner, before adding: “If they’re queer, that’s their problem. I hope there aren’t any queers in the national team.
“But if they’re queer, it’s their business. Are there any? I don’t know.”
Outspoken Cassano used the Italian word “frocio”, which can be translated in English as “queer”.
“Metrosexual” has become a term to describe usually a wealthy city-dwelling man, regardless of sexual orientation, who spends a lot of time and money on shopping and his own appearance.
Cassano’s reply was largely laughed off but provoked a strongly-worded response from campaign group the Gay Centre in Italy, who themselves used an Italian slang phrase for doing something stupid that plays on Cassano’s name.
“Cassano says ‘cassanate’ (stupid things) about gays, showing his arrogance and irresponsibility,” said spokesman Fabrizio Marrazzo in a statement.
“Unifying sport and homophobia gives a dangerous message, especially to the young.
“Cassano has shown that he has no respect, not only from a sporting perspective but from a human one, towards the many who follow him and consider him a great player.
“He would deserve at least a yellow card if not an expulsion from the European Championships.
“It is a relief at least that the coach Cesare Prandelli thinks differently.
“In any case it is in fact football which will be the theme of our next Gay Help Line, the phone line which gives help against homophobia.”
After the exchange, Cassano turned to the translator and said: “You’re not going to translate that to the Polish press, are you?”
Homosexuality in sport and particularly football is a sensitive issue.
There are no high-profile openly gay footballers in the major European leagues and many gay rights groups have called for someone to take a stand and become the first.
Last year, German international goalkeeper Manuel Neuer told Bunte magazine that “those (players) who are homosexual should say so. That would take a load off their minds. And the fans would get over it quickly.
“What is important to them is the performances on the pitch of the player, not his sexual preferences.”
But earlier this year Italy striker Antonio Di Natale said he thought the sport’s macho culture would make it very difficult for a player to be openly gay.
Former Nottingham Forest forward Justin Fashanu is the only English footballer to have come out later in his career.
He killed himself in 1998 at the age of 37 after being questioned by police in the United States about an alleged sexual assault on a 17-year-old boy.
Another British athlete, former NBA star John Amaechi came out but only after he had ended his basketball career.
Former Wales rugby union international Gareth Thomas came out right at the end of his career but said he had not done so earlier as he did not want to be known for his sexuality rather than his sporting prowess.
“I don’t want to be known as a gay rugby player. I am a rugby player, first and foremost I am a man,” he told Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper in December 2009.
By that point his eight-year Wales career had already ended and he only played on for a couple more seasons, including a switch to rugby league.