Phuti Lekoloane, South Africa’s first openly gay male professional soccer player and goalkeeper for Makapanstad Romans FC in the ABC Motsepe League, says the soccer industry is not ready to embrace the gay community.
He came out in 2015 but says he still faces the same difficulties he faced the first time he spoke publicly about his sexuality.
“I came out five years ago, however, I still face the same rejection I faced back then. I’ve only played in one league in my professional soccer career and a lot of my teammates knew about my sexuality before I even came out. However, others were accepting and yet others weren’t as accepting when I officially came out,” he tells DRUM.
Phuti believes the South African sports industry, especially soccer, is not ready to accept the gay community. This is based on his own personal experiences, how he has been and continues to be rejected for staying true to who he is.
“I think me coming out wasn’t even about being brave, it was about me wanting to live my full authentic life. I was not brave, I just wanted to live my life.”
He believes advocating for the LGBTQ community in sport is him fighting for all the people who are still scared to come out and paving the way for future generations.
“I am like Walter Sisulu. Somebody had to die for our freedom, so we can be free, and it will always be the case. Someone will always have to suffer for inclusion, diversity and equality. And I believe I was blessed to be the one fighting this fight, I have lost a lot of things and I have risked my career coming out, but I don’t regret it because this is what makes me me,” he says.
Phuti also started a foundation called Phuti Lekoloane Foundation to offer support to gay athletes. “I started the foundation because of the lack of support throughout my career. I had no support from the gay community at all. I’m the first one to have a structured LGBTQ organisation that will cater for all people in the sport industry,” Phuti says.
His foundation aims to fight homophobia and for equality in all sports.