If Jacob Jancto had chosen a job other than professional football, he says he probably would have come out with his homosexuality a decade ago. But the Zac midfielder waited until he was 27 to become the first current international to come out.
“Football is a bit homophobic, but I believe my example will make it better,” Jankto said. “I know many people who work in factories or banks [and are openly gay] But it’s always a tough decision in football.”
their announced last month Prominent players such as Neymar have been widely welcomed by gay rights groups, but it has also drawn attention to whether the men’s game is doing enough to support players of diverse sexual orientations and combat homophobic attitudes among players and fans.
FIFA shared his support for Jankto on Twitter, but two months earlier the game’s governing body faced a backlash at the World Cup in Qatar, a repressive Gulf state that bans homosexual acts. A Qatari official has referred to homosexuality as “mind damage” after FIFA banned an initiative by European teams to promote inclusion with rainbow armbands and fans were banned from showing support for gay rights inside stadiums.
Jankto described his life as emancipatory, and feared humiliation and ill-treatment in an unprecedented manner. He said he has received sponsorship offers since his announcement.
“I can finally play football [feeling] Completely free and I don’t have to think about it, not only on the pitch but also off the pitch,” Jankto told the Financial Times at the training ground of his club Sparta Prague. “Maybe I expected a bad reaction but 99 percent was really good.”
Few gay male footballers have disclosed their sexuality. Players who made public disclosures, such as German international Thomas Hitzlsperger, often did so after retirement. In 2021 Josh Cavallo became the first openly gay top-flight player at Adelaide United in Australia. In England, second-tier Blackpool’s Jack Daniels came out last year, more than three decades after Justin Fashanu’s revelations towards the end of his career backfired. Fashanu died by suicide in 1997.
Many female footballers, including prominent players such as US star Megan Rapinoe, are openly lesbian. Jancto said that Czech goalkeeper Barbora Voticová, who plays for Paris Saint-Germain, is an inspiration. “Maybe men are more afraid,” he said.
Jankto recalled the struggle of striving for success on the pitch while feeling “under pressure” to live up to the heterosexual expectations placed on male football stars. “From 15 to 26, I always tried to have relationships with girls but it didn’t go well. Last year I said this doesn’t make sense. . . I didn’t want to hide myself anymore.”
Stefan Lawrence, a senior lecturer in sports business management at Leeds Beckett University, said women’s football had a “more open and accepting culture” because it was “presumed to challenge ‘traditional’ gender norms.”
Men’s football has historically “done the exact opposite, confirming and reinforcing traditional gender roles,” Lawrence said, “a culture that clearly promotes forced heterosexuality”.
Jankto has represented the Czech Republic 45 times since his senior international debut in 2017. After playing in Italy’s top division, including nearly 100 appearances for Sampdoria following his €15mn move from Udinese, he joined top-flight Spanish club Getafe, who sent him on loan to most successful Czech club Sparta last year.
Among the former communist states of the EU, the Czech Republic is one of the most progressive in its attitude towards LGBT+ rights. In 1962—then Czechoslovakia decriminalized homosexuality; It raised the age of consent for sex to 15 in 1990. Prague legalized same-sex partnerships in 2006.
But more than his country’s liberal reputation, Jankto said that returning to his family environment made his decision to come out easier: “Definitely it’s better for me to say this in the Czech Republic because I’m at home. I probably wouldn’t have said that in Spain.
Jankto said he disclosed his homosexuality last year to close friends and family, including his partner, Marketa Ottomanska, a model with whom he had broken up. They have a three-year-old son. He then told his coaches and teammates before going public in a video released last month.
In 2021, Jankto helped his national team reach the quarter-finals of the European Championship, but the Czechs did not qualify for the winter World Cup in Qatar.
Jancto said FIFA and other governing bodies “could help more” in tackling prejudice within the game, but felt the problems ran deeper than racist or homophobic chants directed at players in the stands: “I don’t think it’s a problem. [fans]It is a common problem.”
Sparta’s director of communications, Ondrej Kasic, said the club “decided to stay somewhere in the middle, not to be an activist but at the same time to protect Jacob and to convince people that the club fully stands behind him”.
But for the club’s younger players, Jankto’s decision backfired. “He’s brave for that,” said Kai Jupa-Williams, a 15-year-old Canadian who moved to Prague last year to join Sparta’s youth team. He said it would make “other people less scared” about coming out.
Jankto said he does not want to be the public face of the LGBT+ movement, even though he supports the work of advocacy groups, but hopes he will be remembered more for his exploits on the pitch.
“I don’t want to be the captain or the voice of this community. I don’t want people to remember me as gay but as a good player and a brave player.”