Josh Cavallo, who last year became the only openly gay professional top flight men’s footballer in the world, says he has “no words” to describe his disappointment at being targeted by homophobic abuse during an A-League Men game over the weekend.
The Adelaide United player came on as a second-half substitute during the Reds’ away game at Melbourne Victory on Saturday night and said afterwards that he had received abuse from the crowd at AAMI Park.
The 22-year-old received acclaim from across the globe in October when he came out via Adelaide’s social media channels. Players past and present from Gerard Piqué, Raphaël Varane and Marcus Rashford to Gary Lineker, Robin van Persie and Joey Barton, plus clubs including Liverpool and Juventus, all lined up to show their support.
But just two months later, Cavallo has found himself having to call out abuse from the stands.
“I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t see or hear the homophobic abuse at the game last night,” Cavallo wrote on Instagram on Sunday. “There are no words to tell you how disappointed I was. As a society this shows we still face these problems in 2022.
“This shouldn’t be acceptable and we need to do more to hold this [sic] people accountable. Hate never will win. I will never apologise for living my truth and most recently who I am outside of football.”
Cavallo also said he was targeted after the game on Instagram and used his own post to call out the social media platform for the way it deals with homophobic abuse.
“To Instagram I don’t want any child or adult to have to receive the hateful and hurtful messages that I’ve received,” he said. “I knew truly being who I am that I was going to come across this. It’s a sad reality that your platforms are not doing enough to stop these messages.”
The Australian Professional Leagues said it was “shocked and saddened” to hear of the reports of the “homophobic bullying”.
“Our players, staff and fans have the right to feel safe on and off the pitch,” APL CEO Danny Townsend said. “There is no place for bullying, harassment or abuse in Australian football and we have zero tolerance for this harmful behaviour.”
The APL is working with both clubs to investigate the incident and it promised to issue sanctions to any people found to be involved.
“We fully support Josh Cavallo and want to ensure he can focus on his football performance, rather than on vile abuse. We will continue to concentrate our efforts on creating safe and welcoming A-Leagues for all.”
Cavallo said he was grateful for the support from individuals who made a stand at the game and for the positive messages he had received afterwards.
He also had a message for others, particularly young people, who had been on the receiving end of similar abuse, telling them to “hold your heads up high and keep chasing your dreams”.
“Know that there is no place in the game for this,” he wrote. “Football is a game for everyone no matter of who you are, what colour your skin is or where you come from.”
Adelaide United said the “disappointing and upsetting” abuse would not be tolerated while the players’ union, Professional Footballers Australia, said “there is no place in our game, or society, for those who direct abhorrent abuse at others”.
The Victory released a statement condemning the abuse and confirming it was investigating.
“Melbourne Victory sees football as a platform to unite fans no matter what background,” it said. “Spectators found to have breached these standards will be banned from future matches.”