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Gay football star Collin Martin blasts FIFA for failing LGBTQ+ community with Qatar World Cup

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Collin Martin of Minnesota United FC runs the ball against the Montreal Impact during the MLS game at Saputo Stadium on July 6, 2019.

Gay footballer Collin Martin has blasted FIFA for failing to use the World Cup to advance LGBTQ+ rights in Qatar.

Homosexuality is criminalised in Qatar and LGBTQ+ people are forced to live their lives in hiding. Despite this, the country was selected to host the World Cup, a decision which has been roundly criticised because of Qatar’s human rights abuses. 

Martin, a midfielder with San Diego Loyal, tells PinkNews that Qatar should never have been allowed to host the World Cup in the first place because of its track record on LGBTQ+ rights.

“I think it should have been awarded to a more progressive country that’s willing to open its doors to everyone,” he says.

His “biggest disappointment” is that FIFA failed to use the World Cup to advance change for LGBTQ+ people in Qatar.

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“There has been no interest from FIFA in trying to actually improve the lives of the people that are living there.

“I think they actually had a real opportunity to improve the lives of the people there and they simply have not made an effort at all to do that.”

Collin Martin of Minnesota United FC runs the ball against the Montreal Impact during the MLS game at Saputo Stadium on July 6, 2019
Collin Martin of Minnesota United FC runs the ball against the Montreal Impact during the MLS game at Saputo Stadium on July 6, 2019. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty)

Like many other queer players, Collin Martin has felt “disheartened” watching the World Cup from the United States and seeing “the lack of representations in stadiums” and the “lack of allyship allowed from straight players willing to support the LGBTQ+ community”.

“It’s been really hard and I think it’s important to note that. There’s a lot of people who are trying to make the sport more inclusive, yet we have the biggest tournament on the world’s stage and we’re seeing exclusion.

“It’s hard, and as much as there’s a lot of people who are pushing the sport in the right [direction], FIFA and Qatar have shown that they are still not willing to be a part of that conversation.”

He’s particularly concerned for gay players who may be in the closet and ended up having to play in Qatar where their very existence is criminalised.

“I’m sure it would be very scary. I’m sure your focus wouldn’t be completely on playing and performing and there would be a whole other component to how you show up to work and to play and to do what you love.

“If you are closeted it would be a big, big hurdle to be an openly gay player in a World Cup in Qatar.”

His message to FIFA is a simple one – they’re letting everyone down by failing to push for greater LGBTQ+ inclusion in football.

“I would tell FIFA that you’re letting down your fans, you’re letting down your players, you’re letting down progress in soccer.

“It’s a shame they feel they need to just focus on soccer when obviously the biggest thing should be making sure soccer is for everyone and making it the most progressive sport for everyone. It’s a huge let down and I hope that they can learn from this and I hope people can continue to hold them accountable.”

Collin Martin says football is for everyone

Martin’s comments come more than four years after he came out publicly. Since then, a number of other footballers – both active and retired – have come out.

Today, he’s a professional working at the top of his game – but even he isn’t immune to homophobia.

He’s only had one homophobic experience in football since he came out. In 2020, a player on an opposing team was accused of using a homophobic slur during a game. Martin decided to speak out publicly about it, and he had the full support and backing of his team.

Looking back, he describes that moment as his “biggest nightmare”. 

Collin Martin controls the ball during a USL match between North Carolina FC and the Hartford Athletics on June 1, 2019.
Collin Martin controls the ball during a USL match between North Carolina FC and the Hartford Athletics on June 1, 2019. (Williams Paul/Icon Sportswire via Getty)

“At the time I was devastated, it was extremely hard, but then a really positive thing happened from it and my teammates and my club and my coaches stood up to what I experienced and supported me.”

Besides that one incident, Martin has been able to be himself fully and openly in football. His message to young LGBTQ+ people who want to forge a career in the sport is that anything is possible – and their sexuality or gender identity shouldn’t be a deterrent. 

“It wasn’t always just in my profession, even with my family and friends, this was something that I felt like for a long time that I was never going to be honest about. 

“As you slowly break down the different barriers in your life then you can get to a point where you think, ‘Oh you know I’m accepted by my family and friends, why not try a teammate? Why not open up to a colleague in the front office of the team?’”

He eventually decided to come out publicly after a friend sat him down and told him that doing so would have a positive impact, and that it would be felt far and wide.

“I actually needed a little bit of guidance and a little bit of pushing to see the bigger picture, because for a while, for about a year and a half, two years, I was more than satisfied to just enjoy the support I had privately, so it really did take a little bit of prodding to then take that next step.”

Having said that, Collin Martin is all too aware that LGBTQ+ representation in men’s football isn’t where it should be. He worries that queer kids are being driven away from the sport because they don’t see it as a place they can thrive.

“What ends up happening is that at a youth level kids will just stop playing the sport if they feel like it’s not a place for them.

“I think that’s where the work needs to be done – at a youth level, and continuing to try to make that more of a safe space for these kids.”

Kids also need role models, he says. Martin was inspired by Robbie Rogers, the former footballer who came out after he retired. 

“I just thought, I have to be that role model for these kids.” 

His message to LGBTQ+ youth who want to pursue a career in soccer is a powerful one – he wants everyone to know that they can be themselves in sport.

“First of all, soccer is definitely the sport for you and it is a sport for everyone and you should never feel like you can’t play the sport that you love, but there are going to be times where you are maybe questioning that,” he says.

“My biggest advice is open up and try to trust the people around you that really love you and I hope they’ll give you the support and encouragement to continue to push on in the sport.

“There are plenty of people that are willing to support you and be a part of your journey and will push you to keep on playing.

“This is a sport for everyone and it’s one that we all should be able to enjoy.”

Collin Martin, San Diego Loyal soccer player, who came out as gay in 2018, has partnered with BonusFinder and LGBT HERO to understand representation and attitudes towards the LGBTQIA+ community in US professional team sports.

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