In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Adelaide United’s Josh Cavallo reflects on a range of subjects, including Qatar, Jake Daniels and his Premier League dream.
It’s nine months now since you came out – how do you reflect on that decision and the way the world has reacted to it?
Honestly, it’s been incredible to see how the world reacted and basically gave me a big hug. I didn’t realise the impact my story would have on millions and millions of people around the world. It feels like a long time ago – it feels like five years ago for me because I live my days so fully now. It’s been absolutely incredible. I’m very happy and proud of myself that I can help these people better and evolve the game.
Has it surprised you, the reaction?
Yeah, it did. I was a bit unsure what was going to happen, being the first ever. It was hard to picture what could happen. It didn’t matter for me whether it was successful or unsuccessful, it was about the story and the timing. It was for my personal reasons – it was greater than football. But I’m honoured it had a good reaction and it’s helping people. It’s nice to get the messages from the celebrities and the recognition, but it’s from the parents and the kids themselves, from the grandparents who reach out. I only have to open my phone to show you guys that they’re saying, ‘You’re helping my kid become themselves and they feel they have a place on this earth’. That, for me, is greater than football. This is something big in life and to know that my video from my Adelaide home is reaching people and helping people, it’s crazy. It’s magnificent to see the power this video has had.
What message has made you think, ‘Wow’? Has there been one celebrity that’s made you take a step back and think, ‘This is incredible’?
Obviously the messages from the football stars, your icons like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, [Antoine] Griezmann and [Jesse] Lingard. When I was younger I woke up to watch them play early in the morning, so it’s nice to see these straight athletes reaching out and saying, ‘Hey Josh, it’s OK’. Because the whole point of my story was to come out and show if you see two guys or two girls in the street walking and holding hands we don’t say anything, so why are we saying anything in football? So that’s the reason I wanted to come out – to show it’s perfectly normal. This hasn’t happened before but why not? I want to be this person that people can look up to when they’re younger. I can be that role model that I didn’t have. Yes, I had Justin Fashanu. Obviously that ended in a sad story. But I want those kids out there – that little Josh that’s watching – to say, ‘Look at Josh Cavallo – he’s gay and he’s comfortable in his own skin’. That’s the message that I want to get across.
What have been the biggest positives for you, and have there been any negatives?
There’s definitely been negatives. Obviously I was expecting for there to be negatives – being the first there’s always going to be that. For example, when it happened with the Melbourne Victory supporters, it was only one or two supporters that said homophobic things, but to see how people reacted, the people around those people said something. We bring our kids to the game and obviously the kids don’t want to see those comments and hear those comments. It’s not a safe environment for them. Seeing and going through this, no, it’s not acceptable, but I do realise I have to do this to make the change for the future, so in five, 10 years, this won’t happen because people have learned their lesson from the situation with me.
The fact you stood up to the homophobic abuse and were supported as well, how important was that?
Yeah, it’s magnificent. Through that issue that came across, it’s been solved straight away. There’s a software that we’re working on for the A-League players in Australia so they are protected. For me, it’s OK to deal with hate – I’ve experienced it. Any professional athlete will come across hate at some stage of their career, but it’s how they deal with it. Those little kids that are looking at my Instagram that might be struggling and find themselves gay and not out and see that comment, that will affect them. That’s my concern. We’re creating a software that’s blocking out those hateful comments and kids growing up won’t see that. To tell you the truth, for every one bad message, I get 10,000 good, so I’m not looking at the bad messages. But it’s important we take this next step and through that incident, we’ve had a great solution of creating this software that hopefully we can share with the world soon.
Is that important to you – creating that safe space on social media?
Definitely. Obviously being the first, it’s hard to show what it’s going to be like in five to 10 years’ time, so I want people to learn and adapt to it. All you have to do is go through one of my photos and see all the lovely comments people have to say about me. If someone is struggling and finds themselves in the situation that I did, I’m there to be that guide, that helping hand. Everyone’s on their own journey, just like Jake [Daniels]. Being open and proud is the best thing ever. It feels like I’ve lived such a long life now but it’s only been months since I came out.
Jake Daniels, the two Scottish referees, the Leinster rugby player – they all cited you as an inspiration. What does that mean to you and the fact that your decision to come out has made a difference to their lives?
It’s nice to get recognition like that but that’s only on the surface. Thousands and thousands of athletes across the world are in touch with me and I am helping them through their own journeys. There are going to be more coming out soon, don’t you worry. It’s really nice to see these people have somebody to turn to now, because that’s something I struggled with growing up. With football, there was no one I could reach out to, and I want to be that for someone. It could be someone in rugby, it could be someone in tennis, but it’s really nice to see people get inspired by my story. I might not know them personally but I can help them.
Have you been inundated with messages from elite sportspeople who want to share their stories? And are they using you as a reference and trying to find the courage to do so?
Obviously it was really crazy when I came out. In only 30 minutes I had over 700,000 messages, so I couldn’t really get through every message – I wish I could. But I try to get through as much as I can because I know the way those people feel. It’s not just sports stars, it’s the everyday people as well. It’s the people going into their workplace that feel like they don’t fit in. I’m really proud I can be a helping step in their life.
You’re still very young – only 22 – is it quite overwhelming?
No, for me it’s really exciting. I like being able to help people and know that it’s had such a positive impact on people. Within three months of me coming out one of our staff members came out and I’ve been guiding him through the process, which was a really proud moment. So it’s nice to see I’m helping change other people’s lives.
You were quite young, Jake was only 17 when he came out. Do the younger generation maybe feel more empowered to speak their truth?
I think it’s incredible. Within five or 10 years’ time, I hope this is not even a topic we have to talk about, just like the women’s game. What made me hungry to do this is to help make it so no one turns an eye to someone being gay or trans, just like the real world. To be comfortable in your own skin and treated fairly – that’s the main message I’ve come across with. I’ve always said, ‘Love will always win’.
Adelaide recently became the first A-League team to host Pride games – is that another stepping stone to changing the landscape?
Definitely. It was very exciting and an honour to be a part of that and lead the pack. Through my story we created an historic event in the A-League, and it was really nice to see Adelaide jump on board with that. They’ve been incredible for me, the culture there from day one through the coaches and all the way through the staff and players has been immense. It’s really helped me to be comfortable in my own skin here and that’s something I want to share – just like Jake’s Blackpool – to show it’s OK for people to be themselves and to adapt to these cultures. The more we do, the more accepting and open players we’ll have. It’s crazy to think there’s only a handful of gay players that are active in the world right now in football. I’ll think we’ll see that changing very soon.
The World Cup is only a few months away in Qatar. We recently saw the first Qatari to publicly come out as gay. Are you giving hope to people in that part of the world who perhaps have had to stay silent?
Yeah, a guy reached out to me and said he was inspired by my story. That was another example of someone who’s not in the industry that was inspired by it, so that’s really nice. But it does concern me. If I represent Australia at the World Cup – and I’m pushing for that – it would be an honour but at the same time, the laws clash. Do I want to do something really good in my career – I’ve always dreamed of playing for my country at the World Cup – but do I want my life to be in danger? It’s difficult and a bit sad. It’s hard to pick which one you want to do. But in all my messages there’s a lot of people from those countries that have to escape just so they can live freely and be themselves. I hope this changes in the future because it’s not OK the way it’s going right now. It’s something we can definitely turn around.
If you are picked, will you go to the World Cup?
I’d definitely go to the World Cup, yeah. I want to show it’s OK for everyone. It’s not just OK for Josh Cavallo because he’s a footballer and he’s protected, I want it to be OK for that everyday person.
Players will be asked during the World Cup – from all the different teams – about the human rights issues. What can current players do?
I think the way we’re going is fantastic and it’s just little things that can help the situation. Through Pride round in Australia for example, it was fantastic. It was a sell-out game for us because there was a lot of people coming who don’t even know football, but they felt at home and were included. What was really nice about that was that for the rest of the season you would see the rainbow flags at the game and that’s just a small thing that can raise awareness and improve things. That’s an example of things we can keep doing to evolve the game.
Transgender athletes are another huge talking point at the moment. Tom Daley spoke about it recently and was furious with FINA. Do you stand alongside those transgender athletes that want to compete at elite level?
Definitely. They’re no different to me and they’re no different to you. It’s the same way that I was struggling with my own personal issues as well. I want you to be comfortable in your own skin, just like I am now. It’s incredible how my life turned around and how happy I am now, and I want to share that experience. Be it gay, straight or transgender, I’ll be supporting them forever.
One of the things Jake talked about was having the weight lifted – is that how it’s felt for you?
Definitely. When I told my two coaches – they were the first ones in the football world to know – I felt like there was 20kg off my shoulders. I then went to train and had probably the best training session I’ve had in my life, and the coaches were like, ‘Mate, you can come out every day if you train like that!’ Once I told the players, the world and my family, it was just incredible and my game has developed so much in the last 10 months. I’m just really excited to see what the future holds and hopefully I get the opportunity to come and play in Europe. I’ll keep pushing for that and work as hard as I can to get here.
Is that the dream – to play in Europe, to play in England maybe? To play in the Premier League?
Yeah, definitely. My dream is to play in the Premier League, and I do want to look into playing at a Championship side or a League One side to keep evolving my game. I feel like I’m at that time in my life right now where I’m ready for that change, I’m ready to take that step forward in my footballing career.
Do you think we’ll see a player that has come out as gay in the Premier League?
Definitely – there will be one in there. It’s just a matter of time and matter of comfortability. People are seeing the way the world reacted with me and it’s important for those people that are struggling. It shows it is OK so it’s only going to get better and I think it’s only a matter of time before that happens.
You’ve got this platform and we can see you’re making a difference – what’s next for you?
I just want to keep going the way I’m going. I’m really happy with the way it’s going. Off the field, I’m honoured to be seen like this, I’m honoured to be looked at as a role model and be an inspiration for people. But on the field I want to still be known as Josh Cavallo the footballer. I got to where I am now because I’m a footballer, not a gay footballer. I still have a lot of work to do – I’m still 22, I’m still early in my career, I’ve got lots of years left in me. But I’m really excited for the future and I’m ready to put my head down and work hard on the football field.